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Powers of Attorney and
Advance Medical Directives
One of the most important things we do might seem like a very simple task – preparing a power of attorney. People do not like to consider the possibility of their own incapacity. It’s difficult to imagine a time when you cannot take care of your own affairs. Bad things happen to persons of all ages, and you should consider who the best person would be to handle your affairs if you become incapacitated, whether it is temporarily or permanently.
A power of attorney is a powerful document that appoints another person to act on your behalf. A power of attorney is not a form. A general power of attorney gives broad powers to an agent who can act for you in the same manner as you can act for yourself. Consider the powers your agent should have. Should the agent be able to sell your real estate? Make gifts of your property? Change the beneficiary of your life insurance? Name a successor agent? Change the way you invest your money? Further, consider the very important decision of what triggers the agent to be able to act for you. Can the person act for you immediately, or must you be incapacitated for your power of attorney to become effective? If you must be incapacitated before your power of attorney is effective (called a “springing power of attorney”), what defines incapacity, and who makes the determination that you are incapacitated?
In addition to financial matters, you should appoint an agent who can make your medical decisions. Sometimes called a “medical power of attorney” or a “health care proxy,” the process of designating an agent to make medical decisions is typically made in a document called an “advance medical directive” in Virginia. An advance medical directive contains the medical power of attorney as well as what people refer to as a “living will.”
A living will is a statement that you make about what, if any, life prolonging procedures you would want if you should become terminally ill, and your doctors say there is no reasonable expectation you will recover. You may state what comfort care measures you would want to alleviate pain. You can specify that you do not want CPR, a feeding tube, artificial respiration, or other procedures. However, a living will is not the same as a “do not resuscitate” order. A living will is a statement of your wishes should you become terminally ill in the future. A do not resuscitate order is a doctor’s order that the doctor and you (or your medical agent) both sign, indicating that in no event do you want CPR, intubation, defibrillation or artificial respiration. A do not resuscitate order is not in effect unless you have a serious medical condition.