Legal documents about health care, end-of-life treatments, and allowing others to access medical records are vital to protecting adults at any age. However, a recent article from The News-Enterprise says they are essential for seniors, “All seniors need legal documents for medical issues.”
These documents include a living will, health care proxy, and HIPAA authorization. In addition, they give you the ability to name the individuals you want access to secure medical information and who can make decisions about your health care during incapacity.
The healthcare proxy is the broadest and most important medical estate planning document. Depending upon where you live, it may be known as medical power of attorney, healthcare proxy, or healthcare surrogate.
Here’s where an estate planning attorney is needed: like many estate planning documents, the health care power of attorney can be broad, encompassing both a living will and a HIPAA authorization within one single document, or it can be minimal. By having a document created for you, rather than using a boilerplate form, you can ensure your exact wishes are followed.
The healthcare proxy generally makes specific determinations. An advance care directive documents what medical care you want to receive if you cannot communicate with your healthcare provider. This document can guide your loved ones and doctors about whether or not you’d like to receive treatments like CPR or feeding tubes. Seniors should provide copies of their healthcare proxy to their family and healthcare provider.
The healthcare proxy will name one or more persons as your agent and a backup agent(s) to act on your behalf. Many people think they can change their agent if the agent becomes incapacitated or unavailable. Still, all too often, they need to remember to have their document updated, and then, when they need to have an agent act on their behalf, no one can do so.
Without an appointed agent, court intervention becomes necessary, which is time-consuming and costly.
The health care proxy, coupled with a durable power of attorney, should specify when the agent may act on behalf of the person and address both access to information and decision-making and financial decision-making. The ability to immediately make decisions is critical when the individual is at an advanced age or has urgent medical needs. In addition, other provisions are included to ensure the agent has the full ability to act.
A living will, sometimes called an advance medical directive, maybe a separate document or contained within the health care power of attorney. It includes instructions for end-of-life decisions. These may be as detailed as outlining when artificial nutrition and hydration may be used or as simple as naming an agent with the right to remove the person from life support. If you strongly feel about using life-prolonging devices, your wishes can be legally enforceable through a living will.
Lastly, HIPAA authorization permits another person to have access to review medical records. The HIPAA authorizations are typically in the health care proxy and your durable power of attorney.
It’s never too early to start planning your estate, especially when you’re a senior. The documents discussed in this post are necessary to ensure your wishes are honored. These documents should be created with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the person carrying out your wishes is the person whose judgment you trust and to clarify your wishes. Preparing for these tough decisions in advance is hard. However, this is a gift to those you love, who will otherwise be left hoping they did what you would have wanted.
Reference: The News-Enterprise (May 27, 2023) “All seniors need legal documents for medical issues.”