There’s no way around it; this is a difficult conversation to have with aging parents or loved ones. Who will take care of parents when they cannot care for themselves? Do they have their estate plan in order? According to this article from Health, an important detail is often overlooked: “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why.”
Referred to as a health care proxy, medical directive, or medical power of attorney, a health care POA allows a person to choose someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they cannot do so. This is a different document than a living will, which lets a person outline their wishes if they can’t communicate for end-of-life care, although both can be in the same document.
Naming a medical proxy in advance lets the person conduct their wishes with complete knowledge of what those wishes are.
A health care POA is also not the same as a last will and testament, which goes into effect after a person dies. There is nothing in a health care POA concerning wealth distribution. The will and trusts address those matters.
Giving a trusted person the legal power to make medical decisions is a big step that provides a sense of control and peace of mind. There should be a first choice and an alternate, in case the first person; usually, a spouse, is unable or unwilling to serve.
Without a medical POA, the family may need to go to court to get legal permission to make decisions. It’s the last thing anyone wants to do when their loved one is in a critical medical situation. Imagine having to leave the hospital to go to court when the minutes are ticking away, and your parent is in the midst of a medical crisis.
If someone fails to name a medical proxy and becomes incapacitated, the hospital itself will most often step in to make treatment decisions or rely on the state’s rules to pick a family member to make decisions. The person named by the hospital might not be the person the family wants, but it will have no choice.
Like having an estate plan in place, having a medical proxy in place eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress. Most parents name the adult children they feel will make decisions in their best interest. Regardless of their age relative to their siblings, the responsible, dependable child should be named. If siblings don’t get along and have a history of fighting, it may be best to name a cousin or trusted family friend.
An experienced estate planning attorney will make sure the health care proxy documents comply with the person’s state of residence laws. Every state has its forms and its own laws.
A discussion needs to occur between the person and the people they name in the health care proxy. Make sure the proxy is willing to take on the role and understands the person’s wishes. You should also submit the form to a health care facility or doctor’s office you use, so it is on file if needed. Unexpected events occur every day—being prepared makes it easier for loved ones.
Reference: Health (Dec. 1, 2021) “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why”