A medical power of attorney is intended to give someone the authority to make decisions about your health care if you become incapacitated. It is only one of several kinds of documents that can be used in Florida to specify your intent in the event of an emergency medical situation. A medical power of attorney is typically used in combination with these other documents to help ensure your desired procedures.
Durable Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney must be durable. That is, it must continue to be in effect even after you are incapacitated. Unless the power of attorney specifically states that it remains in effect, it will not be enforceable. Unlike some states, however, Florida law does not permit the creation of so-called "springing" powers of attorney that take effect only upon the occurrence of some future event. A medical power of attorney must take immediate effect and be durable in the event of your incapacitation.
Read More: Durable Power of Attorney for Health
A medical power of attorney terminates in Florida by one of three methods. If you die, all powers of attorney perish with you. Alternately, if you revoke the power of attorney while you're still living, this also terminates the power of attorney relationship. Finally, a power of attorney can be terminated by determination of a court that the language of the power of attorney is insufficient to establish durability past your partial or complete incapacitation.
A living will is a legal document distinct from a medical power of attorney, though it serves much the same purpose. In a living will, you can set forth your intent with regard to medical treatment if you are unable to communicate. An individual with power of attorney to make medical decisions on your behalf can contradict the written intent in your living will since she has essentially the same power you would have to alter the document.
Health Care Surrogate
A health care surrogate designation is similar to a medical power of attorney, but with a few key differences. A health care surrogate designation can only impart the authority to make health care decisions, whereas a power of attorney can include a variety of other important authorizations in the event you are incapacitated, such as financial and legal. Also unlike a power of attorney, a health care surrogate designation is springing--the powers of the surrogate take effect only when you are incapacitated. By using both documents, you can ensure someone has the power to make all the important decisions if you are unable to communicate.
Florida law also allows for the creation of a document called the Do Not Resuscitate Order, or DNRO. This is usually reserved for terminally ill patients, and includes the instruction that they not be resuscitated in the event of cardiac or pulmonary arrest. This document is signed by the physician and the patient. While a medical power of attorney can empower someone to make this decision for you, the DNRO is an additional safeguard that the decision will be enforced without an arduous legal battle.
Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.