Explain medical power of attorney to me

My mother is preparing to die of cancer and has given me medical power of attorney. I’m not quite certain what this means, and I’m having a hard time understanding the literature that turns up on Google.

Also, I have a vague idea that she should also have a living will, but I’m also unclear about what that would entail as well. Is it necessary? Would it include special instructions for disposal of her body, or does it only apply to what happens to her when she’s alive?

Basically, I need short and clear answers, which I have yet to find on my own.

IANAL, but when I was granted a medical POA, it permitted me to act on behalf of the grantor, to conduct her business as needed during her surgery, recuperation, and thereafter until revoked/cancelled by the grantor. You should have a thorough understanding of the wishes of the party on whose behalf you may need to act, including their feelings on a living will, organ donation, and such, should a worst case scenario manifest itself.

IANAL, but have some personal experience. A properly drawn durable POA for health care can deal with all medical personnel when the patient is unable to do so. As danceswithcats said, you should have a clear understanding, preferably in writing as to what treatments she does and does not want.

For example, during my father’s final illness, my sister had the POA. When a stubborn nurse did not want to give him more pain relief, we were able to point to the statement in his file that said this is what he wanted, even if it might further shorten his life. We were able to direct the doctor whether or not to proceed with various surgeries, and my sister’s word was the same as our father’s in all medical issues of receiving or refusing a procedure of any kind.

Someone should also have POA for finances, which IIRC is different from the POA for health care, although it can be the same person. In our case, this enabled us to pay his bills using his own checking account, and to successfully contest certain erroneous charges on his credit card accounts.

I’m sorry that your mother and you are enduring this hard time; her having made her wishes known will be a great help for all of you.

A living will only applies while the person granting it is alive. It generally covers what to do if they are incapable letting their wishes be known, i.e. if they are in a coma. They are no longer operative once the grantor dies, and may be strictly limited.

A medical power of attorney in general gives another person the authority to make decisions concerning the grantors medical care if the grantor is not able to make those decisions.

To accept a medical POA, make sure you know your mother’s wishes and if possible have them in her handwriting to keep any other family member from second-guessing you. (That is a total stab in the dark - I hope you don’t have that kind of situation.)

Does anyone have a total (temporary) POA to keep bills paid, etc., if your mother should be incapitated for any period of time?

Does she have a will? Sounds like a stupid question if she is sharp enough to be naming a medical POA, but you never know.

Love your mother while you have her. I am so sorry you are having to go through this. Be proud that your mother loves and trusts you enough to name you her medical POA - it speaks highly of her feelings for you.


{{{{G._S. Mom}}}

Damn that sucks, I’m really sorry.
What you want is a “durable medical power of attorney”, it allows your mother to designate someone who will make medical decisions for her if she is unable to make them herself

I’m hoping both of you are in Utah, if not I’ll try to find a state specific form for you.

Here’s a good overview,

Here’s a typical form,
a sample one specific to Utah (PDF) I’m not sure if you can just retype the text yourself or if you need an official form,
a simple one (Rich Text Document),
and another one (PDF) with more instructions,

Here’s a link to the actual statute




Thanks for the help, it’s obvious I’ll have to go pester her with a lot of difficult questions.

Is it advisable to have a living will? We both live in Utah, but in different cities, so I wouldn’t be immediately availabe in case of emergency. But I’m pretty much the only relative close enough to be eligible, so it devolved to me (no nasty family politics, fortunately!).

Fortunately, this is still pretty long term, but I’d rather be prepared instead of scrambling around when or if it becomes necessary.

Still sucks though.

She should have a living will. She should also discuss “Do Not Resucutate” (DNR) orders with her doctor(s), with you present if at all possible.

DNR orders can be very limited. As a personal example, my mother was having surgery which we both knew presented the risk of stroke. My mother was emphatic that she did not want to survive a stroke, and had signed a DNR. Most people having the surgery (according to her doctor) stroke during or immediately following the surgery. My mom had to be different - she waited 12 hours. Since she was out of surgery/recovery the DNR did not apply. She lived six very miserable months before complications of the stroke finally gave her quiet and peace.

Does your mother have an attorney? Again, does she have a will? Arrangements for care of her body, etc., should be covered in a will. If possible, set up an appointment for you and your mom to meet with her attorney to see what should be covered and by whom. If you are not close at hand to make emergency medical decisions a living will should be in place.

She has a will, which I have not seen. I’m not sure if arrangements are covered in it though, since I asked her if she wanted to be buried or cremated, and she didn’t mention the will during that conversation. I know she had to have had at least some conversation with the lawyer, as I don’t think she would have thought of giving me POA on her own.

As I said, this is all very early stages, but she thinks she’s going to die so I’m trying to be the dutiful daughter and at least make sure she goes the way she wants.

I feel for you - and hope she’s wrong for many more healthy years!

Knowing you are there to take care of things may enable her to concentrate on getting better. I hope so.

However, if she is going to start this kind of conversation you need to ask the hard questions. It’s much harder when someone is gone and there are still questions left unanswered. As regards your mothers will, tell her you don’t want to know who gets what, just if her wishes concerning funeral, etc. are covered.

As an ER nurse let me add a few things, with my condolences first. If your mother decides to go the DNR route, be sure all family members are on the same page, and I recommend a copy stuck to her refridgerator door. Sounds grim, but EMS will look for one with a sick pt if they should respond to a call. Hospice is a wonderful thing and they should know your wishes and can help answer many questions. Sad to say, but the burden of proof is upon you if you want less than a “everything” to be done. Between my time in ER and ICU I’ve seen many cases drawn out to the bitter end. Wishing you a painless and peaceful experience,

Giant_Spongess, since your mother has a lawyer who drew up the medical POA for her, why not ask your mother if the both of you can sit down with the lawyer to go over it, so that you’re all on the same page? The medical POA gives you significant responsibilities. You should be sure that you know exactly what powers it gives you and what it doesn’t. Sitting down with the lawyer who drew it up, and your mother, whose wishes it sets out, would likely give you a better idea of what it’s about, than doing personal research.

Note that you will need your mother’s consent to talk to the lawyer, since her discussions with her lawyer will likely be covered by attorney-client privilege.

Sorry to hear about the situation. I went through a similar time a while ago. It’s very hard. Best wishes.

I second what others have said about DNRs. The refrigerator is a great place to have one posted, because it’s easy for us to find.

Here’s some info on DNRs in Utah.

St. Urho

In my experience with hospitals (in Utah) they usually will have a form available for the patient to indicate what actions he/she wants performed in very specific situations, and has a section to designate power of attorney.

It consists of a bunch of checkboxes that the patient can mark whether or not to attempt life-saving measures in specific circumstances, then it can be signed and put in her file so the doctors and nurses have access to it.

Check with the nurses or social workers at her hospital. It definitely makes asking the questions easier and more specific,

Best wishes to you and your mother.

Do you see people with DNR medical bracelets? That’s what I want to get, but are you supposed to abide by that? What about a tattoo on the chest? (I’m serious.)

My parents signed advance directives in case they are both incapacitated in an accident during one of their many camping trips. They both said essentially the same thing on paper but I discussed it further and they had smaller differences in how they would want things treated. Hopefully me being in charge without dissent would insure that their wishes are carried out, but I can see that the hospital may differ.

gigi- We do see the bracelets, but it’s more common that people just have the form. We do look for the bracelets. This varies from state-to-state. In Colorado either the official Colorado CPR Directive form or the DNR bracelet is used and EMS providers must abide by it. I’ve heard that other states requre both the bracelet and the paperwork. Here’s a link to Colorado’s Advance Directive Information NOTE: PDF file

A tattoo on the chest would not be legally binding.

Update–I talked to my mom, she actually has a living will and just neglected to tell me. :rolleyes:

Giant_Spongess - I have an important recommendation for you.

Sit down with your mother, as well as with another person, a third person who is less emotionally involved. Your spouse, a family friend, a member of the clergy known to you both. Have your mother describe what she would want to happen in the event she becomes incapacitated. Not just to you, to both of you.

My mother did this, and for that I am grateful. When she was still in good health, she communicated her wishes not just to me, but to my husband as well. In turn, she took each one of our hands, looked us in the eye, and talked about what she wanted to happen, and what she didn’t want to happen.

When she had a stroke, and became paralyzed, and could not speak, I became responsible for decisions about her medical care. When I was in tears one day and said to my husband ‘I can’t make this decision,’ he answered ‘You’re not making a decision, she’s already made her decision, and you’re just carrying it out.’ He was right, and only knew that because my mother had told him very directly about her wishes.

Don’t assume that the written piece of paper is going to convey her intent to you, or to anyone else.

Believe me, all this is very, very hard.