Incapacity is a topic many of us are hesitant to discuss. Discussing the topic with family is even more nerve wrecking. However, planning for incapacity and thinking about what should be done in the event you become terminally ill is a very important part of your Estate Plan.
A key component of a complete estate plan is an Advance Health Care Directive (also known as a Power of Attorney for Health Care). The Advance Health Care Directive allows you to designate an agent to make health care decisions for you in the event you cannot make or express decisions for yourself. An agent can be a close friend or family member so long as they are 18 years or older. It also allows you to describe specifically what actions should or should not be taken at that time. Thus allowing your loved ones to have the power to deal directly with hospitals while also carrying out your wishes as set forth in the document if you ever become terminally ill or involved in a medical emergency. In addition to choosing a health care agent, an Advance Health Care Directive enables you to decide in advance about life support, organ donation, and disposition of remains. Planning ahead for future medical needs is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be respected.
Starting the Discussion:
It is important to plan in advance for possible mental or physical incapacity. The first step in creating an Advance Health Care Directive is to start the discussion with your loved ones. How do you feel about being “connected to machines” or kept alive if you are unconscious with no possibility of recovery? Do you prefer burial or cremation? What are your thoughts about organ donation? These topics are best discussed when we are healthy and far removed from the stress and emotions that come with the actual situation. Do not delay any longer, now is the time to start the discussion and take action.
Meeting the Requirements:
Any person 18 years or older and of sound mind and memory may execute an Advance Health Care Directive. Unfortunately, accidents and incurable diseases can afflict a person at any age. Thinking you are too young or too healthy to create such a document will cause lots of stress and legal complications for your family if you become incapacitated. There have been many court cases detailing the legal struggle of end of life care with the most famous ones involving Nancy Cruzan, Karen Ann Quinlan, and Terri Schiavo. All three of these young women became incapacitated in their twenties. Incurable diseases and debilitating accidents can afflict a person at any age.
The first step is to decide on a health care agent. It is important to decide on and choose an adult relative or friend you trust as your health care agent to speak for you when you’re too sick to make your own decisions. After you choose someone, talk to that person about what you want. You will also be able to write down any specific instructions in the Advance Health Care Directive.
The next decisions to make are regarding end of life treatment, organ donation, autopsy consent, and wishes regarding disposition of your remains. At the Singh Law Firm, our estate planning attorneys will discuss each of these decisions with you in detail.
It is also important to make sure that your Advance Health Care Directive contains a HIPPA release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), also known as HIPPA, was created in 1996 by the U.S. Congress to protect the privacy of your health information. Health care providers are prohibited from releasing your health care information unless you have provided your health care provider with a HIPPA release form. It is important to have a HIPPA release in your Advance Health Care Directive so your agents, especially if they are not immediate blood relatives, may obtain your medical records and reports.
You can change or revoke your Advance Health Care Directive at any time as long as you can communicate your wishes. After executing the document, you should give a copy of the document to the person named as your agent. Take a copy with you anytime you go into a hospital or other treatment facility. You may also provide your doctor with a copy of the document.
Now is the time to take control of health care choices! Sometimes treatment decisions are hard to make and it truly helps your family and doctors if they know your wishes. Contact the Singh Law Firm to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to discuss your health care wishes.