COVID-19 has highlighted why it is critical to have written instructions about how you want your health care to be managed. Physicians and other medical professionals have been frustrated by the lack of written documentation as to how someone is to be treated and who should be making the decisions. It is important to write down what you want done now before you are unable to communicate with your medical professionals. You don’t want to wait until you are too sick to put the proper documents in place. Plus you want to make sure the right person is making you healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated. In addition health care confidentiality laws could prevent the doctors from talking to family members. Though I trust my doctor I am not sure he can read my mind to figure out how I want to be treated. The doctors need to be treating you not arguing with your relatives. It could delay getting the right treatment and cause needless pain and suffering.
You may think putting these documents in place is very expensive. This is not always the case. Examples of these documents can be found on the Internet. They don’t have to be long and complicated and they are easy to fill out. Most of the documents don’t need to be notarized. However I suggest having them notarized just in case there is any question as to their authenticity. I have downloaded the documents into a Word file and they are easy to edit. If you are not computer literate there are inexpensive places that can help you. Please contact me if you would like a referral.
At a minimum you should have a will, a living will, and medical/health care and financial powers of attorney (POA). If you don’t have these documents and family members disagree with the medical professionals it gets very complicated.
Here is what each form does:
Health care POA – A medical or health care power of attorney is a type of advance directive in which you name a person to make decisions for you when you are unable to do so. This gives a person the ability to make decisions about your healthcare if you are unable to communicate and have access to your medical records. Typically you will name at least two people in case one of them is not available. For example each spouse may name the other but if they are both sick (as has happened with COVID-19) there needs to be an alternate. COVID-19 highlights the importance of naming someone outside the home who is not infected.
Living Will – A living will is a written, legal document that spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as your preferences for other medical decisions, such as pain management or organ donation. Mayo Clinic says “Even if you already have a living will that includes your preferences regarding resuscitation and intubation, it is still a good idea to establish DNR (do no resuscitate) or DNI (do not intubate) orders each time you are admitted to a new hospital or health care facility.”
Financial POA – If you are sick who is going to pay your bills? Who is going to file insurance claims? This POA eliminates the need to add someone to the account as it only applies if you are incapacitated. It is important to note that this POA is only in effect while you are alive.
A Will (also known as Last Will and Testament) – This document states what you want done with your estate and who will be in charge of handling the details called an Executor or Executrix. Be sure to ask the person you want to be in charge Handling an estate it is not a fun or simple task. Another key factor is if you don’t have a will or a trust the state where you live will decide what to do with your estate.
Trusts – If you have a large estate you may want to consider putting your assets in a trust. A revocable living trust will require you to transfer property after death to loved ones. It is called a living trust because it is created while the property owner, or trustor, is alive. It is revocable, as it may be changed during the life of the trustor. The trustor maintains ownership of the property held by the trust while the trustor is alive. The main thing you want to do is avoid probate, which is very expensive and time consuming. Another key factor is if you don’t have a will or a trust the state where you live will decide what to do with your estate. This is worth repeating because the last thing I want is a state government deciding what to do with my assets.
For simple estates the attorney consultation to set up a trust is relatively inexpensive. For example my attorney offers a trust package, including an attorney consultation, starting at $625.00. Most of the information is entered online and then reviewed by an attorney to finalize the document. There is a free fifteen-minute consultation to determine what is right for your situation. Please contact me if you would like a referral.
Disclaimer – I am not an attorney. However over the years I have dealt with many families struggling to settle estates. If there had been a few pieces of paper put in place it would have been so much easier. The family could have concentrated on grieving rather than paperwork. In one case the family was at odds on how to handle the medical decisions. If there had been a living will in place it would have saved thousands of dollars in medical bills, fighting between the family members plus their relatives pain and suffering because she stayed on life support for far too long.
Bottom line – With a little planning you can save you, your family and your physicians a lot of pain and money.