The prospect of no longer being able to make our own decisions and take care of ourselves is something no one wants to think about, but whether through sudden illness or injury or a gradual decline due to aging, it is a real possibility that must be taken into account. With seniors, friends and loved ones often recognize the signs of a gradual decline before the senior can admit that something is wrong. If you or your loved one have not done any advanced planning, it’s crucial that you start planning before an emergency develops.
The fact that getting a plan in place becomes more difficult as time goes on was recently illustrated for me while helping a client advise her elderly uncle. The uncle has been healthy all his life but lived as a bachelor with no immediate family. He is now 89 years old and although he still lives independently, his niece is concerned about who would take care of his affairs if he became ill or incapacitated. He had no estate plan in place, and talking about it now created a high degree of agitation. Having him understand the importance of an estate plan was much more difficult than it might have been only a few years ago.
Whatever your own personal circumstances, there are some fairly straightforward documents that you should have in place which will allow your loved ones to make important decisions if you need help.
Health Care Proxy
A health care proxy is a document that names the person you want to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make them yourself. In Massachusetts, you can name one person as your proxy, and then name successor agents in case the first person is not available in an emergency.
If you do not have a health care proxy and there is a disagreement about your care, it is possible that a Guardian will have to be appointed by the probate court. This is a process that can be time consuming, complex and expensive, and will leave the decision of who will care for you in the hands of the court system instead of your own.
A health care proxy is a good thing for everyone to have—including young adults—so that it is absolutely clear who will make important life-saving decisions in case of an emergency.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney is a document that nominates a person who can sign documents on your behalf, and who can make financial and administrative decisions for you should you not be capable of making them yourself. This document is especially important for single persons and senior citizens whom will need their bills and other affairs to be handled for them during a crisis.
As with the health care proxy, if you do not have a durable power of attorney, and become incapacitated, your loved one or caregiver will have to go to court in order to represent you. The person who handles your financial affairs in a crisis is called a Conservator, and the process of being named a Conservator, like naming a Guardian, requires court involvement and additional expenses. It also means that you will not be able to decide which person is best suited for the role of Conservator and the court may choose someone who you might not agree with.
Both the health care proxy and durable power of attorney are essential estate planning documents and are convenient and inexpensive ways to ensure that you and your family are protected in case of emergency. Call the Heritage Law Center today for a free consultation on how these documents work.