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Life and death questions: Choosing your medical power of attorney

Who can you trust in a life or death situation?

That's basically the question you have to ask yourself when you're picking someone to hold your medical power of attorney (POA). If the day comes when you're not able to speak for yourself, whom do you trust to speak for you on issues like whether to try a risky surgical procedure or when to extend your life via artificial means (and when to stop)?

Depending on their age, people tend to automatically pick their parents, spouses or adult children to hold their medical power of attorney -- but that can actually be a mistake. Not everyone is suited to hold another person's health care POA.

Before you make this designation, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Have you and your prospective POA had a frank discussion about your end-of-life wishes? Are you comfortable discussing such issues with this person? Are they comfortable discussing them with you? If you can't talk about your wishes and goals, your POA won't have a clear picture of what you want.
  2. Do you and your prospective POA align on religious and moral grounds? Religious and moral divides can put people at odds when it comes to things like removing life support and comfort care. Make sure that your potential POA has no qualms about following your directives.
  3. Does your prospective POA have the ability to hold their ground in the face of opposition? Sometimes family members will push back when a medical decision is made regarding an incapacitated loved one. You want a POA who will adhere to your wishes, not cave to someone else's.

Choosing a power of attorney for your health care decisions isn't something to be done lightly. It's one of the many important steps you need to take, however, to make sure that your estate plans are complete.

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