The information in this article is intended to be a high-level view, and it’s very common for these documents to change or be replaced. Each country and/or state has its own set of regulations that will dictate which documents are recognized, and in what form. Laws also change from year to year. So, always consult with an elder-law attorney when completing any documents.
As you become the caregiver for an older adult, planning for the future will take on new meaning. Being proactive can save a lot of heartache, misery, and probably money. While your loved one still has the ability to make sound decisions, you must get four important documents in place.
Having these documents in place will provide you with the peace of mind of knowing that you are respecting your loved one’s wishes.
Health Care Directive (Living Will)
This advanced directive communicates a person’s wishes for end of life care; meaning, when a person is unable to make decisions for themselves, a Living Will provides instructions for the type of medical treatment that they want, or don’t want, from health care providers. For instance, do you want to become one of 1.4 million Americans kept alive by a feeding tube or one of the 30,000 people “living” in a comatose state? If you don’t, then you specify this decision in your Living Will.
Medical Power of Attorney
This also referred to as a Health Care Proxy. A Medical Power of Attorney allows an individual to name someone (referred to as proxy or agent) to make real-time decisions on their behalf when they are unable to make decisions on their own; whereas, a Living Will is based on hypothetical situations and may not adequately address all medical situations. The appointed proxy has the same rights as the patient to make decisions about medical care. This proxy assumes responsibility once the healthcare professional deems the patient incapable.
Some states, such as California, require documents that combine a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney. In California for instance, an Advanced Health Care Directive is used where part 1 addresses the power of attorney and part 2 addresses the individual’s wishes.
Related TinT Article: Recent Alzheimer’s Diagnosis? Do 5 Things Now!
Financial Power of Attorney
Like the Medical Power of Attorney, this document allows you to appoint a trustee to manage your finances if you become unable to do so yourself. If a financial power of attorney isn’t in place when needed, your family will likely have to take the matter to court where they will have to ask a court for authority over your financial affairs.
A Financial Power of Attorney can be drafted to be effective immediately once signed, This is common among spouses. Otherwise, a doctor must certify that you have become incapable of handling financial matters in order for it to become effective.
When someone is appointed as the trustee, they are given authority over only financial matters that were specifically identified – it is not necessarily authority over all matters.
This authority ends when cancelled by the grantor, upon their death, or if a court determines mismanagement. Upon death, authority switches to the executor identified in the person’s will.
A Will is a document that describes a deceased person’s final wishes. Often times a will names a person or persons as the executor responsible for ensuring that all wishes are carried out. Wishes can include everything from caring for pets and paying off debt, to distributing assets.
When starting this process with your loved one, remember to approach it slowly. This is likely a traumatic time for them and they may be more sensitive than in the past. After all, when you start putting things on paper things suddenly get more real.
Start by asking simple questions about their wishes. Work with them to start gathering information such as assets, debts, and insurance. Create lists of important items such as accounts, investments, and even keepsakes.
Getting these items in place now, will be a blessing later. Once these documents are in place, you need to ensure that the documents can be located by the appropriate care providers. One way we recommend is to use these wallet-sized cards provided by the Maryland Attorney General. These should be placed where they can be found in case of an emergency so that care providers can locate the relevant documents: Advanced Directive Cards
For additional information, please check our pamphlet by the National Institute on Aging:
Legal and Financial Planning for People with Alzheimer’s Disease
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Questions? In the comments below, I would love to hear your experiences with these documents or others that you may have used.
This article is not a replacement for legal advice. Please consult with a qualified lawyer when making any decisions.