Medical Power of Attorney 101

What’s a medical power of attorney? What’s the difference between a medical power of attorney and a living will? Do I need a medical power of attorney? When does it go into effect? Let’s answer these great questions.

Every adult needs 4 basic estate planning documents: (1) a will (and/or trust), (2) a living will, (3) a durable financial power of attorney, and (4) a durable medical power of attorney.

  • A medical durable power of attorney authorizes a person to act on your behalf to make medical decisions for you while you are alive, but unable to act, such as authorizing surgery or a medical procedure if you are unconscious or in a car wreck.  The person is called your attorney in fact and is your agent.  We customize powers to parallel the desires expressed in your living will. A medical power of attorney includes a HIPAA privacy release and also allows the person to talk with your doctor, pick up medicine, etc.
  • Like a medical power of attorney, a living will only applies during your life, but in the extraordinary circumstance of your incapacity or terminal illness. Your living will tells doctors and family members when and how you want to be kept alive or have life sustaining/prolonging medical procedures done for you if you become incapacitated, in a coma, or are terminally ill.
  • The “durable” part means that the power survives your disability or incapacity – if you’re sick, in a coma, or out of town, the power of attorney works, so long as you’re alive. Powers of attorney can be “springing” or “immediate,” which is about the trigger time: an immediate power of attorney starts when you sign the document (so your agent has full power to act for you starting when you sign), while a springing power of attorney requires two doctors to certify you’re incapacitated before your agent can act on your behalf (adds an extra layer of accountability, but can also delay things badly if a medical or financial decision needs to be made immediately).
  • Yes, you need a medical power of attorney. Any adult who goes to the doctor, the hospital, has surgery, takes medicine (or is on prescription drugs), or has ever seen a HIPAA privacy release needs a medical power of attorney.

My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, can help you get your medical power of attorney and the rest of your estate plan done quickly and affordably. Call (913.707.9220) or email us ( to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2015, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.


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