Medical emergencies arrive without advance warning, but a prudent person can prepare for the unexpected with an appropriate power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document appointing someone, known as the agent, to act in your place in managing your finances or health care. Many types of powers of attorney exist but only those termed durable remain effective if you become incapacitated.
If you have prepared a power of attorney, a trusted person can step in and take the reins if you fall into a coma or are otherwise medically unable to run your affairs. The person you name in a power of attorney as your agent acts for you in those matters specified in the document. If you wish protection in case of a coma or other incapacity, be sure to create a durable power of attorney; regular powers of attorney become invalid if and when you become incapacitated. A power of attorney that does not become active until you are incapacitated is termed springing.
Financial and Medical
Most powers of attorney relate either to finances or to health decisions, and the American Bar Association recommends that you prepare a separate document for each. The person you name in a financial power of attorney pays your bills, manages your investments and collects rent and revenues for you while you are in a coma. The agent named in a durable power of attorney for health care makes medical decisions on your behalf, such as approving treatment, selecting doctors and authorizing continuation or withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment.
You must think ahead if you wish your agent to act for you if you fall into a coma or suffer other medical incapacity. Only someone of sound mind can execute a power of attorney, for obvious reasons. Once you are in a coma, it is impossible for you to select an agent, and even if you are slipping in and out of mental capacity, a court will invalidate your power of attorney if it appears that your mental faculties were impaired at the time of the choice.
If you fall into a coma without having prepared a power of attorney, your spouse or family must go to court to get someone appointed to handle your finances or make your health care decisions. Not only is this a burden on family members in an already stressful time, but attorney fees and court costs can be expensive. This type of emergency can also open the door to family feuds and infighting, and you have no assurance that your most trusted advisor will be the person appointed. A power of attorney can provide inexpensive and invaluable protection.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.