Important Documents for Your Family
When meeting with families we ask a series of emergency questions that includes the existence of a variety of legal documents. Amazingly many are either out dated or non-existent. So,
what financial and legal documents do you and your elderly loved ones need? The following is a basic introduction to the important legal documents recommended for seniors, but it is not intended to substitute for professional legal advice.
It is important for every adult to have a will, detailing how they want their possessions and money distributed when they die. This will applies only to those assets which are just in the name of the deceased person, without a co-owner or beneficiary. While a person can write his/her own will, it is recommended that this important document be drafted by an attorney. Be sure your family knows this will has been drafted, and where it will be kept.
DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
This document names an agent to handle the person's financial affairs. It can appoint someone to handle the person's affairs while the individual is still competent. If it is a durable power of attorney, it can continue to be valid once the person becomes unable to make decisions for himself/herself. In order to be durable, it must state that it continues to be effective after disability.
An advance directive details individual's wishes regarding their health. Unless it states otherwise, the advance directive goes into effect when the attending physician and a second physician certify that the individual is no longer able to make an informed decision. There are three forms of advance directives:
Appointment of a health care agent
This allows the individual to name another
person(s) to make decisions on their behalf. Once in effect, this person is given priority over others who may be qualified as surrogate decision makers under the law.
Health care instructions
In this document the individual details in advance what type of treatment he/she wants to receive, under what conditions. The individual can, for example, authorize the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment whether or not he/she has end stage or terminal condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state.
Competent individuals can orally appoint a health care agent and/or give instructions about medical treatment. The oral directive must be made in the presence of the attending physician and a witness, documented in the medical record, and signed and dated by both the attending physician and the witness.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES PALLIATIVE CARE/DO NOT RESUSCITATE
This form instructs Emergency Medical Services personnel not to perform
cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or related procedures on an individual who is not breathing and has no pulse. Palliative Care means care to ensure the comfort of the individual, for example giving oxygen or providing a blanket. This applies only to EMS personnel who respond to a call, not to other health care providers. Physicians keep a supply of blank Do Not Resuscitate forms. These forms must be signed by the individual's doctor.
The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) keeps a person's health information and records private. Unless your parent authorizes in writing someone else to receive that information, it is illegal for doctors to share any details with you about your parent's health. HIPAA authorization is a simple document that authorizes the doctor to share necessary information with you on your elderly parent's behalf. It's very short and only takes a moment to complete. The doctor's office will have the blank form you need
Once a healthcare emergency strikes, it will probably be too late to prepare these documents, so talk to your parent about getting their affairs in order and spell out their wishes regarding healthcare while they are still healthy. Consult an attorney specializing in elder law who will prepare these items and can provide advice on additional planning tools, depending on your family's circumstances.