Estate planning isn’t only about what happens to your assets after you pass away – it’s also about what could happen if you’re suddenly incapacitated due to an illness or injury. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to need their medical power of attorney to step in and make health care decisions on their behalf at some point, even when it’s not an end-of-life issue. Therefore, you should discuss your beliefs and wishes with your health care agents so they can make informed decisions on your behalf. Here are some of the most important things to discuss:
1. Are you on the same page about end-of-life issues?
Not everybody has the same belief system. Some religions forbid any kind of treatment that might shorten someone’s life, even if the patient will clearly never recover, while others are silent or more flexible. Some people want every possible life-saving measure taken, no matter the situation, while others want only pain relief or “comfort care” past a certain point. You absolutely need your medical power of attorney to agree with you on these issues. It could be very difficult for your agent to tell the hospital to stop giving you food or fluids once it’s clear you’re in a permanent vegetative state if your POA’s religion considers that a sin.
2. Do you wish to be an organ donor or body donor?
Typically, hospital officials will approach a patient’s health care power of attorney about this issue when it becomes clear that a patient is dying. There’s a tremendous need for organs that can be used for transplants, and even whole-body donation is not unusual. There are no right or wrong answers to the question of organ donation, but some people have strong beliefs about it. You need to make sure that your agent understands your feelings in this area.
3. Would you prefer to receive end-of-life care at home?
As your end-of-life approaches, you will likely need additional in-home help, or to be placed in a hospice or other care facility. While every person and each family’s needs are different, most people prefer to remain at home in the final stages of life, in comfortable surroundings with family and loved ones nearby if it is feasible. In fact, research shows that 80% of Americans prefer to die at home. In speaking with your agent, you should consider the financial resources available to pay for care including your insurance policies. By evaluating your resources, you can put a plan in place to ensure your end-of-life care preferences can be carried out.
4. Is your proposed agent willing and available to act?
Do not hesitate to ask the person that you want to choose if they’re actually willing to do this job or not. Remember that it can be hard for someone to make end-of-life decisions for another individual. You need someone who has both cognitive ability to make these hard choices and the emotional strength to make decisions even when it’s tough. In addition, while your health care POA does not have to live near you, proximity may make a considerable difference. If time is critical in your treatment, your doctor must be able to track down your medical agent. Therefore, you want to be certain your agent is available to do the job. At a minimum, they should be easily reachable by telephone or email.
These aren’t necessarily the only things you need to talk about, but it’s a start that can help you make sure that you’ve picked the right person. If you find out that you haven’t, it may be time to make some changes to your estate plan. Contact Scarola Law to schedule a consultation.