When planning for the future, most people willingly envision and plan for positive events like marriage, parenthood, retirement, etc. Events that are not often planned for, however, are the life-altering events that affect a person's ability to make decisions for him/herself. And while it is understandable why such issues are not willingly discussed, it is important to know that it could lead to days, weeks or months of emotional distress, financial strain and/or family conflict. In order to avoid the potential of such distress, it important to at least be aware of the term advanced directives and what legal documents exist in order to reduce the potential for conflict.
Advanced directives are documents created for the purpose of planning ahead and ensuring you and your family's needs are properly arranged for. Basic documents like a Health care proxy, a Living Will and Power of Attorney are documents that can ensure you and your loved one’s wishes are honored.
Health Care Proxy, also referred to as Medical Power of Attorney, is a legal document whereby a person is appointed to make medical decisions for another individual. For example, if your loved one suffers a stroke and becomes disoriented, a health care proxy would give you the legal ability to make medical decisions about his/her care.
Living Will is ideal for individuals who want to have their wishes in writing either because they do not have anyone to designate as proxy or because they hold strong convictions about the level of care they do/do not want.
Power of Attorney gives an appointed person the ability to handle another person’s finances. A durable power of attorney, specifically, allows the chosen individual to handle a person's finances even after the individual is no longer competent. Simple tasks like getting a new bank card for Mom or using Dad’s money to pay for his own medical care are more easily accomplished when a person is an appointed power of attorney.
HOW TO GET THESE FORMS - depending on the state you live in, getting the above forms can be as simple as speaking with your physician and/or with a social worker. The Power of Attorney forms can generally be obtained from an attorney. While there are versions available online, it is important to verify the document you have is the latest version as laws can change.
For information on Advanced Directives in New Jersey, click here; for New York, click here. For other states, visit www.lawhelp.org. Aside from getting over the hurdle of addressing this issue with your loved one and/or family, educating yourself about what is available can be a great way to start the process of planning ahead.
Have you already planned ahead and obtained any one of these documents? Do you have any advice you can share about having such a conversation with a loved one ? Feel free to share your advice/experience below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.