COVID-19 is a confusing virus. Some people are barely affected by it, while others become seriously ill. People who are adversely affected can move from sick but stable to a ventilator in mere moments if the virus takes a negative turn. Having a Healthcare Power of Attorney, also known as a Medical Power of Attorney, ensures that your healthcare team and family know who is authorized to make decisions for you if you become seriously ill with COVID-19. This document is not the same as a living will, but rather expressly states who has the authority to make decisions for you when you can’t make them yourself.
While it may seem obvious who you would want to make these decisions on your behalf, legally speaking, you cannot assume that your healthcare team will know who to choose. Here is what you need to know about a Healthcare Power of Attorney and how you can properly address COVID when making one.
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Doesn’t my spouse already have the authority to make healthcare decisions on my behalf?
The answer to this question depends on the state you live in. In some states, spouses do have automatic Medical Power of Attorney. In some, they do not. To make sure you are giving that power to your spouse, you need to move forward with the proper legal documentation before you get sick.
Can my healthcare agent refuse to put me on a ventilator for COVID-19 if I have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order?
A do-not-resuscitate order tells medical professionals not to perform CPR to try to bring someone back if their heart stops. In most cases, DNR orders do not impact the use of a ventilator. In the case of COVID-19, ventilator use can give the body a chance to heal while the individual fights COVID pneumonia. However, the healthcare agent named in the Healthcare Power of Attorney has the right to refuse ventilator care if they believe you would not want it. So it is best to discuss your wishes when you make the document, rather than waiting until a crisis when you may be unable to explain what you want.
Will my healthcare agent be allowed to communicate remotely with caregivers?
This is something you may want to add to your Healthcare Power of Attorney documentation. Traditionally, the healthcare agent needs to be able to meet with the healthcare team in person to make these decisions. However, in the COVID-19 world, contact between caregivers and medical professionals and the non-COVID world is sometimes limited. In some instances, you may need to explicitly state that your healthcare agent named in the Power of Attorney is allowed to communicate with your medical team via digital means, such as video conferencing and texting. This will ensure that the agent has the legal protection needed to make these critical medical decisions even if they cannot be with you at the hospital during your illness.
Does a Durable Power of Attorney allow someone to manage my finances if I’m in the ICU or otherwise unable to do so?
In addition to the Healthcare Power of Attorney, you may also want a Durable Power of Attorney for your finances. This document: 1) is “durable,” which means it is valid in the event that you are incapacitated due to illness, and 2) grants authority over your finances, which means it gives your agent the power to make financial decisions on your behalf.
With a Durable Power of Attorney for your finances, you name an agent that can take care of your financial affairs if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 or otherwise incapacitated for any other reason. If you are a business owner or have other significant financial responsibilities, and you contract COVID-19 and need hospitalization, having a Durable Power of Attorney in place will protect your financial interests. As you prepare for the potential of contracting COVID-19, check out the 5 Key Legal Documents you need to be fully prepared and protected.The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of change in the legal world. The uncertainty of what can happen if someone contracts the virus and the fast pace at which it works means you should have your legal documents in order now, so you and your family are protected if you get sick. For more information about what you may need to do to update your estate plan to provide the right protections for COVID-19, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.