April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day – Time to Sign that Health Care Proxy

April 7, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Tags: , , — Alexis @ 11:30 AM

Who even knew we had a National Healthcare Decisions Day?  But what better time to get that Health Care Proxy in order.  That’s the document that allows another person to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot make or communicate them yourself.  Without a Health Care Proxy in place, if you can’t make a decision or express yourself, your medical team’s hands are tied – they are going to make the decision that they feel is appropriate, and it might not be one that you would agree with.

When clients sign their Health Care Proxies, I also give them two more things  – one is a wallet card for keeping emergency contact information and a list of medications, both vital for EMT’s, and the second is a workbook that helps them work through their choices for end-of-life care and share those thoughts with their family.    

Once you have decided whom you want to name as your agent within the Health Care Proxy, it does not take much time for the attorney to produce the document.  It’s National Healthcare Decisions Day – why not get it done today? 

“Do Your Documents” Now – and Avoid Guardianship Later

February 23, 2009

Imagine… you grow older and your memory starts to go.  You fall and sustain and injury requiring surgery, and the anesthesia corrupts your mind to the point that you can’t handle finances, make decisions, or even participate meaningfully in your health care.  If you didn’t execute a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy when you were well, then your family will have no choice but to pursue a guardianship. 

Guardianships cost money, perhaps $2000 if there are no arguments within the family.  Your children will have to hire a lawyer and go through a lengthy court process.  In the end, the court will appoint someone a “guardian” and from that moment on you will be legally stripped of your power to handle your own affairs and the guardian will make every decision for you.  Is there room for abuse here?  Absolutely.  This story from Minnesota shows both high litigation costs driven by disagreeing family members and also seemingly self-interested decisions by a third-party “professional” guardian – burning through $673,000 of the woman’s assets in two years. 

Instead, get thee to a lawyer and “do your documents.”  For just a few hundred dollars – and that’s including the initial consultation – you can draft a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy that allows you to name exactly who you want handling your affairs someday, in the event that you can’t speak for yourself.  Sure beats spending a lot of money to go through a court process that could easily appoint someone you wouldn’t want making your decisions. 

Who Should We Name as Guardian (or Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy) for Our Special Needs Child?

February 6, 2009

As your special needs child turns 18, you need to name advocates to act as her voice on financial, legal, and health care matters.  See my post on the need for a guardianship or a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. 

The big question is who to name to act as the agent under these different documents.  While your first impulse will of course be to name yourself – after all, you’ve been acting in this role since she was born – you may want to give this more thought. 

Some parents – and adult children – prefer to give authority over finances and legal affairs to someone other than the parents, perhaps an aunt, uncle, cousin, or even a lawyer.  Sometimes letting someone else handle the money – having another person say “no” to requests – takes the pressure out of the family relationship and lets parents and kids just enjoy each other.  Many families do, however, prefer to keep health care decisions within the family unit. 

Oh My Gosh, My Special Needs Child is About to Become a Legal Adult!

February 5, 2009

Knowing that your special needs child is about to become “of majority age” can strike fear in the heart.  If you doubt your child’s ability to make her own financial, legal, and health care decisions, there are a few things you need to do before she turns 18.  (If she is already 18 or older, it’s not too late, it’s just best to do these things earlier.)

Here is a scenario: Your 18 year old child is on an outing with her Asberger’s social support group, has an accident, and goes to the emergency room.  Now that she is 18, even though you have been her voice and advocate her entire life, the ER staff cannot take orders from you if you don’t have certain legal documents in place

If your child is able to discuss these matters with you (in legal terms, we call this “competency”), then have a discussion (or a few) about having her sign a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy.  These documents will allow someone to act as her surrogate, primarily during times when she can’t make her own decisions.  When she is able to, she is in the driver’s seat.  The Durable Power of Attorney would allow you or another adult to handle her financial and legal affairs, and the Health Care Proxy would let someone else make health care decisions.  

For a child who is not able to understand and sign such documents, you will need to pursue a guardianship.  This is a court proceeding. When everyone in the family agrees on who should act as guardian, it is a straight-forward process.  

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