As part of your estate planning work, your attorney will prepare a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. These documents are critical to allow another person whom you appoint to legally care for you when you are unable to manage your own affairs, for example, if you are in a car accident, develop dementia, or are having a rough patch after a surgery.
What happens if you don’t sign these documents when you are able to and later need someone to act for you? Your family will need to go to court and pursue a guardianship, which is an involved court proceeding. When everything goes smoothly, this can take several weeks, usually requires hiring a lawyer, and then there are annual reports that your agent must make to the court. All this is paid for out of your bank account, and it can easily add up to thousands of dollars.
Starting on July 1, 2009, the Massachusetts guardianship process will be even more involved and more expensive. The legislature added several components which will do a much better job at upholding the due process rights of the public than our existing laws. Doctors will have to complete lengthy, detailed reports attesting to the fact that the patient cannot manage her own affairs – these reports are not covered by health insurance. Lawyers will need to draft documents that are much more detailed pleadings concerning the incapacitated person’s need for assistance. And the lawyer and the family together will need to draw up a detailed plan for the person’s care complete with milestones and goals. Annually, the family will need to write and file with the court a report specifically detailing the incapacitated person’s living situation, health status, and finances, and consider whether the person has improved so that perhaps the guardianship is no longer needed.
All of this will cost a lot of money and take up a good deal of time. Instead, you can today plan to meet with your elder law attorney and for only a few hundred dollars, write and sign a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. It’s that simple.