Can a Spouse Overrule a Medical Power of Attorney?

By River Braun, J.D.

Can a Spouse Overrule a Medical Power of Attorney?

By River Braun, J.D.

As long as you are mentally competent when you created a medical power of attorney (POA) and followed state laws regarding the content and execution of the document, no one, not even your spouse, has the right to overrule your choices. Anyone over the age of 18 has the right to appoint a trusted person to act as their agent to make medical decisions in the event they become incapacitated.

Woman in lab coat gesturing to man

Medical Power of Attorney Defined

A medical POA (also referred to as a healthcare power of attorney) is a legal document that enables you, as the principal, to appoint a trusted person to become your agent for making health care decisions when you are unable to make them for yourself. Many people draft this document to memorialize in writing how they would like to be treated in the event that an accident or illness leaves them unconscious or mentally incapable of making their own decisions.

If you do become incapacitated, your agent must follow your wishes, regardless of whether your agent agrees with your choices. There are times when this can be difficult, especially when your agent is also your spouse or the decision involves ending life support. Spouses have been known to challenge the POA in these cases, but, if the document is properly drafted and executed, they are unable to succeed in the challenge.

Challenging Authority

If a spouse wishes to challenge a medical POA, they may do so under certain circumstances. These circumstances include mental incapacity, coercion, lack of formalities, and abuse.

Mental Incapacity

If the spouse can prove that the medical POA was drafted and signed during a period of mental incompetence, then a judge may determine that the document is void. If successful, a spouse may also ask the judge to appoint a conservator or guardian to act on behalf of her incapacitated spouse.

Coercion

If you are coerced into signing any legal document, the document is invalid. The same is true in this case. Your spouse would need to show facts proving the coercion in order to have the document invalidated.

Lack of Formalities

A medical POA is invalid if it is not prepared in accordance with state laws, which vary as to the requirements for execution. For example, in California, the principal must sign the document in the presence of two witnesses or a notary. In Wisconsin, though, the principal must sign in the presence of two witnesses who are over the age of 18, not related to the principal by blood, marriage, adoption, or domestic partnership, and not directly financially responsible for the principal's health care.

Abuse

If your spouse believes that your agent is abusing his powers, then they can challenge the document on the grounds that the agent is not acting in your best interests. Again, your spouse needs to gather facts proving the abuse in order to challenge the POA.

 

If you wish to prepare a medical POA, consider your options. Research your applicable state laws to ensure that you follow all rules and regulations of your home state before drafting it. And know that your spouse cannot overrule so long as you drafted the document with the applicable laws in mind.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.