Durable Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document providing written authorization for an agent to make decisions on behalf of a principal. This legal document is prepared by or at the request of the principal, who selects both the person she wants for her agent and the scope of the authority granted. Durable medical powers of attorney give an agent the right to make health care decisions for the principal when she is incapacitated. The principal can narrow the scope of the authority by including limiting language in the document.
Generally, an agent named in a durable medical power of attorney has broad powers to make all decisions related to medical and health issues on the principal's behalf when she becomes incapacitated. These decisions include accepting or rejecting diagnoses and treatment options, selecting medical personnel, selecting health care and living facilities and reviewing medical records. These powers can be reduced by including language that expressly limits the power of attorney document; they can also be altered by the principal's expression of preferences about such issues as the use of life-sustaining treatment if her condition becomes irreversible.
As part of her general powers, a medical agent under a durable power of attorney has the authority to restrict or deny visitors access to the principal. The agent may do so even if the medical professionals treating the principal have not recommended against visitors if he believes that the visits would be detrimental to the principal's physical health or emotional well-being. He may allow some visitors and refuse others as long as he does not violate his fiduciary duty to make all decisions based on the best interests of the principal.
An agent owes a principal a fiduciary duty, which is the highest duty known to the law. He is obligated to make decisions that are in the best interests of the principal and to put the principal's interests above his own. If the medical agent refuses to allow friends and family members to visit the principal for reasons other than the principal's best interests, he is violating his fiduciary duties. Unfortunately, access to the incapacitated principal can become a battleground in family or personal conflicts. Those denied access to the principal have the option of asking a court to review the agent's actions.