There’s a medical crisis: Your mother falls, breaks her hip and lands in a hospital, then is transferred to a nursing home to recuperate. She’s elderly, frail and confused by the hospitalization. But she’s never named a health proxy. Medical decisions need to be made. Who’s in charge?
The story gets more complicated: Your father’s Alzheimer’s is progressing. Without your mother at home to care for him, as she always has, he can’t be left alone. Your mother has been handling financial decisions for the two of them since your father was diagnosed. She has never considered signing a durable power of attorney for you or one of your siblings. How do you take care of paying for in-home care without access to their accounts?
These are just two kinds of dilemmas that can happen as loved ones age and health issues become more complicated. All too often, it takes a major medical crisis before family members realize that important legal documents must be in place for them to effectively step in to manage their loved ones’ affairs.
Before an Emergency, Have These Five Legal Documents in Place
To help you plan and avoid a family crisis, here is a checklist of legal documents that every adult over the age of 18 should have:
Durable Power of Attorney
Names an agent or agents to act on your behalf with respect to financial matters.
Health Care Proxy
Identifies an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not capable of making and communicating such decisions.
Advanced Directive (“Living Will”)
Defines directions to your health care proxy regarding the kind of medical care or end-of-life decision that you want made on your behalf. A formal living will is not legally recognized in Massachusetts, but there are various ways to make your wishes known.
Identifies an agent to interact on your behalf with medical providers regarding medical records, information and billing.
Defines what you want to happen to your probate estate upon your death and names an agent to carry out your wishes. While most people have a will, it only comes into play after you’ve died and does not cover any of the issues that arise if you are alive but incapacitated, either temporarily or permanently.
For more detailed information on what is right for you, your family and your situation, contact an elder and disability law or estate planning attorney who specializes in this type of planning.
Without these documents, you or family members may be unable to act on behalf of your loved one and may need to file court papers to obtain appropriate consents. Control is taken from your family and placed in the hands of strangers. Planning ahead can help you to avoid the stress of going through this legal process when you are already dealing with the emotional strain of the medical crisis.
Organize Your Important Papers for Easy Retrieval in a Crisis
What if you are the one with the medical emergency? Here are a few more steps to take that can help others care for you:
- Make sure a trusted person has a list of your medications, medical conditions and physicians, including contact information.
- Tell your trusted person where your important papers are filed and keep a list of what those files include. If you use password-protected computer files or have telephone access to accounts, be sure your trusted contact has your list of passwords and PINs.
- Give consent in advance to physicians, financial advisers and others to speak with your family members as needed. Complete any paperwork that might be needed to make this easier.
- Keep a card in your wallet, behind your driver’s license, with the name and contact information of your primary emergency contact.
- Include a listing in your cell phone, ICE (In Case of Emergency), for your primary emergency contacts.
None of us can control the timing of a family or personal medical crisis. But if you take these steps to plan ahead in case of emergency, you can save yourself and those you love a great deal of time and stress in the midst of an already difficult situation.
President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified geriatric care manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.