Aging adults should have a health care power of attorney.
It does not hurt to be prepared.
Businesses and schools run fire and tornado drills so employees and students know what to do in case of an emergency.
Although it can feel silly or inconvenient at the time, being prepared can save lives and lower anxiety.
According to a recent Health article titled “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why,” families must be prepared for ailing health or medical emergencies.
Those with aging parents know it is hard to watch failing health.
Although having incapacity planning and estate planning in place is important at any age, this is vital for seniors.
Foundational to the incapacity components of estate planning is the durable power of attorney for health care decisions.
Other common names for this document are medical power of attorney or health care proxy.
What is a durable power of attorney for health care decisions?
This document is used to designate individuals to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated patient.
It serves a different function than a living will (or as we call it in our practice, a health care treatment directive).
With a living will, you can outline specific wishes for end-of-life care for your agent or physician to honor.
When selecting an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf, it is helpful to discuss your wishes with them in advance.
This can give them a sense of peace knowing their choices align with your own wishes.
If you think you are set because you have a last will and testament, you are wrong.
A last will and testament or a trust address distribution of assets at death, but these do not address medical decisions during incapacity.
This is a common misconception.
Obviously, the agent you designate in your durable power of attorney for health care decisions carries significant power and authority.
You should check with the person of your choosing to ensure he or she is willing and capable of serving in this role.
It is also important to designate an alternate in case something should happen to your first choice.
Having a durable power of attorney for health care decisions can save your family in both time and legal fees.
Without this document in place, your loved ones will need to petition the courts for the right to make your health care decisions.
Time is precious especially during a medical crisis.
If you do not have a person designated, the hospital may make a choice on its own.
The hospital may select someone who does not have your best interests in mind.
Who should you name as your agent?
Some people choose to select their spouse, then their most responsible child.
This can lead to arguments among siblings.
If this is a fear, then it may be wise to choose a trusted friend or other relative.
If all of your children “get along,” then you could appoint all of them with the authority to act individually in an emergency setting, but state your preference that they act together when practical to do so.
I have seen this approach work out well for all concerned.
No one really wants to bear the burden of life and death decisions alone.
When preparing your durable power of attorney for health care decisions, you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state of residence because states vary in their laws surrounding these issues.
Reference: Health (Dec. 1, 2021) “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why”