Seattle Medical Power of Attorney
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We all value the freedom to make our own medical decisions. But, we aren’t always able to exercise that freedom. And, many people never think about who will make those decisions if they’re unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Instead, most have a loose idea that “the family” will decide.
That’s true: if an incapacitated person doesn’t have a guardian or a medical power of attorney (technically known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare in Washington), state law determines who gets to make the decisions. But, the answer may not be what you expect or what you’d hope. When you appoint a healthcare agent, you put that decision-making power in the hands of someone you trust.
What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare?
A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document that appoints a healthcare agent to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions on your own. This includes both temporary and long-term situations. For instance, the person you’ve appointed would be the person who could authorize a surgical procedure while you were unconscious after an automobile accident. In this situation, decision-making would typically revert to you as soon as you were conscious and mentally capable of making your own decisions again. That person would also step into your shoes to make medical decisions if you were incapacitated in the long-term through a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
What Happens if You Don’t Appoint a Healthcare Agent?
Washington state law creates a hierarchy. When someone who isn’t under guardianship and hasn’t appointed a healthcare agent becomes incapacitated, decision-making authority falls to:
- First, the spouse or state-registered domestic partner
- Second, children of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- Third, parents of the patient
- Fourth, adult siblings of the patient
While this looks straightforward, it can create complications and conflicts that increase stress on the family during an already-difficult time. For instance, an 18-year-old college freshman who has just lost one parent in a car accident may be called upon to make critical medical decisions for the surviving parent. Or, a group of three or four adult children or siblings of the patient with equal decision-making authority under the law may be unable to agree on the best course of treatment.
The best way to ensure that decisions are made in accordance with your wishes and to spare your family conflict and confusion in a critical moment is to make your wishes known in advance. That means creating an advance healthcare directive and appointing a healthcare agent while you are healthy.
Why Do I Need a Healthcare Representative if I Have an Advance Directive?
Advance directives give your medical care providers instructions for specific types of decision, such as whether you want your life artificially prolonged in the event of a terminal, irreversible condition. It would be impossible to anticipate and pre-judge every medical decision that might arise and include it in an advance directive.
An advance healthcare directive and a durable power of attorney for healthcare work hand in hand to ensure that your wishes are carried out with regard to a handful of critical decisions, while putting less predictable issues in the hands of a trusted friend or family member.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney is an Important Part of Your Estate Plan
A well-considered healthcare power of attorney is an important tool, both to protect your autonomy and to spare your family from unnecessary stress and conflict. But, it’s just one element in a comprehensive estate plan. An experienced Washington estate planning attorney can explain how powers of attorney, advance healthcare directives, and other measures work together to protect your assets, ensure that your family is provided for, and put decision-making in the right hands.
At Harbor Law Firm, we know how important estate planning is. That’s why we make it as easy as possible for you to gather the information you need and take steps to protect yourself and your family. That means:
- Knowledgeable guidance customized to your circumstances and your goals
- A fully remote process that never requires you to leave home
- Early morning, evening, and weekend hours to fit your schedule
- An adaptable process for exchanging documents and collaborating
- Flat-rate pricing that ensures you’ll never be surprised by a legal bill
We also offer free consultations. Schedule yours right now.
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