All too often, adult children are at a loss when their elderly parents encounter a health care emergency. If the kids can’t find health care proxies and DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders), they won’t be able to help their parents the way their parents had wished.
Before an emergency strikes, certain legal documents should be prepared so that children or other trusted family members will be able to help loved ones. Explain to elderly parents that this simply means that their wishes will be known and it is necessary to do this while they are healthy and well, or at least able to articulate their wishes. That means speaking with an estate planning attorney to have the documents created and also making sure that family members know where important papers are located.
Las Cruces Sun-News published an article recently about this topic, “Getting affairs in order,” that suggests if you have siblings or other relatives, you need to think about who will be the health care proxy.
Consider who among you shares similar views and values about life and medical decisions as your loved one. You should also name an alternate proxy. It’s important to have a detailed living will, so that the loved one can choose the amount of authority the proxy will have over their medical care and the types of decisions he or she can make. Make sure that the proxy and alternate are comfortable with this responsibility. He or she must then complete the legal forms detailing their wishes. Start the process by talking with their doctor and consulting with an elder law attorney.
Failing to plan in advance may result in your inability to gain access to the information you need or to act on your loved one’s behalf, if they’re unable to do so. You can avoid time-consuming and costly court fights by working with your loved one to prepare these documents.
Other important health care documents include a medical directive or a “living will” or “advance health care directive” that describes the kind of care your loved one wants to receive if and when they become ill or incapacitated. This must be completed while your loved one is of sound mind and can decide what treatments they want to receive.
A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to make health care decisions for your loved one. On the other hand, a durable power of attorney for finances lets you manage your loved one’s financial affairs. A HIPAA release says that you have access to their health records and medical staff.
Another important document is a revocable living trust. This allows your loved one to retain control over their estate, while making transfers of his or her assets to beneficiaries. They select property to go into the trust and who will receive it. During their lifetime, they act as trustees (managers) of their own living trust. A revocable living trust allows the estate to avoid probate at the time of death.
A will needs to be prepared so that your loved one can convey their assets and other personal property as they see fit. An estate planning attorney will help draft and execute these documents. Remember that the documents are not simply written up and stored somewhere. Every four or five years they need to be updated to take into account changes in family situations and changes in the law.
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