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What is a Power of Attorney?

Medical Power of Attorney (POA) is something each of us, no matter our age, should have. Frequently, people grant POA to their spouse, children or siblings. POA goes into effect only if you are not able to make competent decisions. Not when the POA doesn’t like or agree with the decisions you are making.

*It is crucial to choose someone you trust and discuss what you do and don’t want done in certain circumstances (i.e. removing life support). Confirm they are willing to following YOUR wishes in spite of their feelings at the time the decisions have to be made. When someone has been granted the POA for another, they have an ethical responsibility to act in good faith on behalf of the person.

What is a Medical POA?

It is a document, signed by a competent adult, i.e., “principal,” designating a person that the principal trusts to make health care decisions on the principal’s behalf should the principal be unable to make such decisions. The individual chosen to act on the principal’s behalf is referred to as an “agent.”

What happens if I do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?

If you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and are physically or mentally unable to tell your doctors what you want, the following people, in order of priority, are legally authorized to make your health care decisions for you:

  1. Your court-appointed guardian or conservator;

  2. Your spouse or domestic partner;

  3. Your adult child;

  4. Your adult sibling;

  5. A close friend; or

  6. Your nearest living relative.

When does the POA have the right to make health care decisions on my behalf?

A POA can make health care decisions for you only if your attending physician certifies in writing that you are incompetent, some states may require 2 physician certifications. The physician must file the certification in your medical record. Usually the POA authority will take over in situations where you suffer from advanced dementia, permanent disability or experience a dramatic mental decline.

The process to appoint your POA should be done before competency is questionable. As long as you can make decisions for yourself, there is no need for a power of attorney.

Can the agent make a health care decision if I object?

No. Treatment may not be given to or withheld from you if you object. This is true whether or not you are deemed incompetent.

What health care decision-making power does the POA grant to an agent?

The POA can make arrangements for doctor visits, treatments, medications, tests and surgeries if needed. It also gives the agent the power to make decisions about life support.

However, an agent cannot consent to:

  • Commitment to a mental institution

  • Convulsive treatment

  • Psychosurgery,

  • Abortion, and

  • Neglect of comfort care.

In the POA document itself, you may limit the agent’s decision-making authority. The POA agent can be changed at any time by simply tearing up the old form and filling out a new one. Many states do not require a lawyer or notary to update the forms so check what the requirements are in your state.

**This post is meant to share basic information about POA laws in order to get you to think pro-actively about potential future care needs and those whom you would want in charge of your care. Laws vary from state to state, so it is important that you consult with an attorney near you on the scope and range that a medical power of attorney contract has for you.

References: Texas Medical Association &

Written by Author and Keynote Speaker Sue Salach-Cutler. Sue has a Master’s degree in Gerontology and has worked in the healthcare field for over 25 years. She is the Author of “Along Comes Grandpa”, a caregiving resource guide, and the novel “If I Walked in Her Shoes” Her programs and books provide the vital resources needed to help family caregivers as they maneuver through the caregiving journey. Find out more about her books and programs here: Adapted from:

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