An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is a life-changing event that can alter your family’s future. Alzheimer’s progression can often be unpredictable, so it’s important to plan for the care and well-being of a person with the condition as early as possible. Part of that preparation includes arranging a medical power of attorney (POA) — a legal form that grants someone authority to make medical decisions for you if you’re no longer able to.
Some people might struggle with advance care planning, such as creating a living will or filling out advance directives. Planning for your future ensures that your wishes are fulfilled. Planning ahead also makes it easier for caregivers to navigate important decisions about a loved one’s care.
Members of myALZteam have mentioned the importance of these documents. One member wrote, “Do get the paperwork done early — power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will. Hopefully, you will not need any of them soon, but it will be so much easier if he can sign the paperwork now.”
Another shared, “We signed power of attorney and patient advocate paperwork as well as obtained living wills. It was a relief to get those things in order before he can’t understand anymore.”
Here’s what you should know about granting someone medical power or attorney or taking on this role for a loved one.
A medical POA is a legal document that gives another person the ability to make medical decisions on behalf of someone else. It’s similar to a durable power of attorney, except that grants someone else control of your financial activities. In the United States, specific laws vary from state to state for setting up a medical POA. The person you grant medical power of attorney may be called a health care agent, proxy, surrogate, and representative.
A medical POA agent must follow predetermined guidelines in the legal paperwork. However, they can make significant decisions, including whether to keep someone on life support or discontinue medical treatment.
If you have Alzheimer’s, choosing a medical POA agent can reduce the burden on your loved ones when your mental capacity declines or if you are fully incapacitated. Outlining your preferences in advance directives gives you better control over your medical care when you need it most.
For caregivers, becoming a medical power of attorney agent helps prepare you to act on behalf of your family member when the time comes. Health care situations can be complicated, and it’s a good idea for anyone with Alzheimer’s to have a trusted person who can act as their advocate.
For someone with Alzheimer’s, designating a medical POA agent ensures that your preferred person or people will be in charge if you can no longer make your own decisions. It also avoids confusion between different caregivers.
The rules vary by state, but in general, a person must meet a few criteria before they can be assigned medical POA. For instance, an agent must be 18 or older. They can’t be a health care provider or a long-term care provider for someone living in an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. In addition, they should not be related to your health care or long-term care provider.
Examples of the people who are typically appointed to be health care agents include:
Have a discussion with this person before you make this decision so that you both have an understanding of the legal relationship you’ll be entering into. Let your loved ones and your health care professionals 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 POA agent, one may be chosen for you. The following people are legally authorized to make decisions about your care (in the order listed) if you’re incapacitated:
Your medical POA goes into effect should you no longer have the mental capacity or ability to communicate. A doctor must verify that you or your loved one can’t make health care decisions before a health care 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. 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 POA can be revoked.
Ideally, you should choose a medical POA agent before your mental fitness comes into question. Because circumstances may change over time, you have the right to change your agent or revoke their rights as long as you’re still capable of making decisions.
For example, if a spouse was given the POA, they may have this right removed if a divorce occurs. Be sure to read through the terms or meet with an elder law attorney or social worker who can help explain the ins and outs of your medical POA document before signing.
For most parts of the United States, there’s a simplified form you can use to designate your health care agent. This basic form is valid in every state except Ohio, New Hampshire, Texas, and Wisconsin. Each of these states has its own mandatory disclosure statement.
You should be able to find medical POA 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. It’s also highly recommended that you seek legal advice from a reliable attorney before finalizing all documents during this legal planning process.
While selecting a medical POA agent, you may also want to put other legal documents in place that define the type of medical treatment you want, how your bank accounts will be managed, and who will care for your dependents (if applicable). They should also cover topics such as your preferences regarding long-term care and estate planning.
On myALZteam, the social network for people with Alzheimer’s disease, you can connect with other people living with this condition. Here, more than 85,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Alzheimer’s.
Have you thought about making legal arrangements for yourself or someone you care for with Alzheimer’s? Share your insight or experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on myALZteam.