The disposition of assets is a major part of estate planning, but it is not the only part. Another important part of estate planning has to do with how health care decisions are to be made if the person doing the estate planning becomes incapacitated. There are a number of instruments available for Texans who have feelings on how health care decisions should be made if they lose the capacity to make their own decisions. This blog post will discuss one of these instruments, the medical power of attorney.
The medical power of attorney is also called the health proxy. It is made and signed by a person called the principal. The principal uses the medical power of attorney to name another person who is to make health care decisions on the principal’s behalf if the principal becomes incapacitated. This other person is called the agent. Once the principal’s attending physician certifies that the principal is incompetent, the agent is empowered to make medical decisions on the principal’s behalf. If the principal regains competency, the medical power of attorney loses effect.
While the principal is incompetent, the agent can make decisions regarding any treatment, service or procedure to maintain, diagnose or treat a physical or mental condition of the principal. This is a very broad power. Under Texas law, the agent must make health care decisions according to the agent’s knowledge of the principal’s wishes, including the principal’s religious and moral beliefs. The principal can limit the agent’s decision-making authority in the medical power of attorney document.
What if the agent does not know the principal’s wishes regarding a certain medical condition? In that case, the agent must make the decision according to the agent’s assessment of the principal’s best interests. The principal can put an expiration date in the medical power of attorney document to further limit the agent’s powers.