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Medical Power of Attorney and Parkinson’s Disease

Posted on December 20, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

A Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is a life-changing event that can alter the way you think about your future. Having Parkinson’s can put life into perspective and bring up issues that you may not have thought about, including how you want to be cared for if you cannot advocate for yourself.

Several members of MyParkinsonsTeam have said they’d like to get advance directives in place but haven’t gotten around to it. As one member shared, “I still need to get power of attorney for my daughter over me just in case, since I live with her and two of my grandkids.” Another said, “Needed to make my daughter power of attorney … can’t sign my name anymore … ugh!”

If you’ve been dreading the process of creating a living will or filling out advance directives, you may have more peace of mind after checking off this critical task from your to-do list. As another member wrote: “I’m going to be brief. You need a medical power of attorney. You can get a form and complete instructions on Google.”

Here are some details on medical power of attorney and how to select your health care agent.

What Is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney, sometimes called a durable power of attorney for health care, is a legal document that gives another person the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to make the decisions. In the United States, there are some specific state laws for setting up a medical power of attorney. The person you choose may be referred to as your:

  • Health care agent
  • Health care proxy
  • Health care surrogate
  • Health care representative
  • Health care attorney-in-fact
  • Patient advocate

A medical power of attorney agent must follow any predetermined guidelines that you specify. However, this person can make significant decisions, including whether to continue any life-sustaining treatment you may eventually need. Your agent may also decide if you will be an organ donor after death, but this person’s authority otherwise ends once you’re no longer living.

How Do You Complete the Process?

For most parts of the United States, there’s a simplified form you can use to designate your health care agent. This bare-bones multistate form is valid in every state except Ohio, New Hampshire, Texas, and Wisconsin. Each of these other states has its mandatory disclosure statement for the same purpose.

You should be able to find medical power of attorney forms on your state government’s website. Most states don’t require a notary, but typically two witnesses must be present to certify that you signed the forms. Different states have specific rules on who can serve as a witness, so be sure to read the terms carefully or meet with a lawyer for assistance.

While selecting a medical power of attorney agent, you may also want to put other legal documents in place for estate planning, end-of-life care decisions, beneficiaries, financial planning, and other needs. Ask your doctor for a referral to a social worker or lawyer who can help you with the process while you’re still in a sound state of mind. Taking these steps isn’t just important for people with Parkinson’s but also for any adult who wants a say in their future care.

Potential Benefits and Risks

Sometimes knowing what to do isn’t the same as actually getting it done, especially when it comes to paperwork. One member of MyParkinsonsTeam shared: “I’m a retired social worker, and I haven’t got a living will or a DPOA (durable power of attorney), and I used to do it for other people. What’s that old saying? The cobbler’s kids don’t have shoes? Well, it will be a top priority here this winter.”

Although it can be difficult to think about an uncertain future, choosing a medical power of attorney agent can reduce the burden on your loved ones if your health declines. Outlining your preferences in advance directives gives you better control over your medical care. However, health care situations can be complicated, and having a trusted person who can act as your advocate will help your care team navigate unforeseen circumstances.

By making decisions in advance — or choosing someone who understands what you want — you can prevent others from grappling with difficult choices about your care or from having regrets. Be sure to inform the person you choose as your agent so that person can be prepared and available if called upon. Let your loved ones know your reasoning for choosing this person and encourage them to support your agent in fulfilling their decision-making responsibilities.

If you don’t choose a medical power of attorney agent, an agent may be chosen for you. The following people are legally authorized (in the order listed) to make decisions about your health care if you’re incapacitated:

  • Any guardians or conservators previously appointed by a court
  • A legal spouse or domestic partner
  • An adult child
  • An adult sibling
  • A caregiver (who is not your health care provider)
  • A close friend or nearby relative

If you don’t want any of the above people to have power over your care, make sure to put disclaimers in place to specify that choice. Designating a medical power of attorney agent ensures that your preferred person or people will be in charge.

There’s always risk involved when you give another person legal authority over your rights. Medical power of attorney won’t come into play unless you don’t have the mental clarity or ability to communicate, however. A doctor must verify your incapacity to make health care decisions before your agent can intervene.

You can also set limits on the types of medical decisions your agent can make for you, and they must follow any instructions you’ve provided. As one member shared, “Power of attorneys are pretty common and very safe if put together properly. You can have a specific or partial POA, where your person can only make decisions for you regarding specific things, or a universal POA, where it would be all things.”

If a court believes that your health care agent is not acting in your best interests or in line with your previously designed desires, the right of medical power of attorney can be revoked.

Choosing the Right Person

State laws vary, but in general, a person must meet a few criteria before they can be given medical power of attorney. For instance, your agent must be older than 18 years of age or legally emancipated. The person can’t be your health care provider or your long-term care provider (if you live in a facility), and your agent should not be related to your health care or long-term care provider.

Steer clear of choosing anyone you don’t fully trust or don’t believe can handle the responsibility. There’s a lot to consider before signing a medical power of attorney document, including whether you feel the other person is up to the task. Just because someone cares for you doesn’t mean they’re the best choice to act as your representative.

People who are typically appointed to be health care agents include:

  • A close friend
  • A family member
  • A member of your religious community
  • A trusted neighbor

One member of MyParkinsonsTeam shared his experience, saying, “I just appointed my oldest son as my universal or full POA. Obviously, it would be someone you trust implicitly and who you are pretty sure will outlive you.”

Ideally, you should choose a medical power of attorney agent before your health comes into question. Because circumstances may change over time, you have the right to change your agent or revoke your agent’s rights as long as you’re still capable of making your own health care decisions. If a spouse was given the power of attorney, they may have this right removed if you get divorced.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for connecting with others living with Parkinson’s. On MyParkinsonsTeam, more than 80,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Have you designated a medical power of attorney? Did you meet with a lawyer or complete the process yourself? Share your insight in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyParkinsonsTeam.

Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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