People are living longer and enjoying fuller lives. However, it is possible that because of a sudden illness or injury, you may be unable to talk to a doctor to make decisions about your treatment or direct your financial decisions. To plan in advance, it is important to prepare a few simple legal forms.
Legal Form #1 — Living Will
A living will is a statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment if circumstances arise in which they are no longer able to express informed consent. It is an advanced directive of how you want to be treated in certain medical circumstances, depending on state law.
The document may permit you to express whether you wish to be given life sustaining treatments in the event you are terminally ill or injured, and to decide in advance whether you wish to be provided food and water intravenously. A living will also conveys other medical directions that impact your care, including end of life.
A living will is especially important if you haven’t communicated these wishes verbally to family members. If they are unsure of your desires and something happens to you, a living will outlines your desires in the event you are incapacitated and a life saving treatment decision is necessary.
Legal Form #2 — Healthcare Proxy
The healthcare proxy, which is sometimes called a healthcare surrogate or durable medical power of attorney, is specifically designed to cover medical treatment. A person is appointed and granted the authority to make medical decisions for you in the event that your mental state is such that you don’t have the legal capacity to make your own decisions.
It’s important to determine the right person to serve as your healthcare proxy. I’ve been appointed as healthcare proxy by individuals. My stance is to work with clients in advance and make decisions together. In a situation where they become incapacitated, I can then make medical decisions for them based on their desires.
Legal Form #3 — Power of Attorney (POA)
A power of attorney is a very important lifetime planning instrument. It gives one or more people the power to act on your behalf, as your agent. It may be limited to a particular activity such as closing on the sale of your home; or it can provide complete decision making power.
The POA can be used to designate whether the agent can act on your behalf on a temporary or permanent basis. When an individual undergoes a sensitive medical procedure, the POA can go in effect until that person is conscious and is again able to make decisions.
A “springing” POA takes effect upon the occurrence of a future event, usually upon the determination that you are unable to act for yourself due to mental or physical disability. The document is signed but is not used. More often than not, it would be in the possession of an attorney until a determination is made that you are unable to act for yourself—due to a mental or physical disability. Then, the power of attorney would spring into force, granting the agent the designated powers.
It’s important to know that while, in theory, the power of attorney is enforceable in all states, each state has its own rules. This is especially important to consider if you have residences in different states.
Speak with your attorney to make sure you have these three crucial estate planning documents in place and that they are enforceable in each relevant state. Here’s an excellent article from Forbes.com with more details.
Contact me with questions or comments.