By Ryan McEniff
Although the Scout motto has been used by millions of Scouts since 1907, it can be applied to how you can be better prepared in dealing with any potential emergency that your mother might experience like an injury, car accident, or something else. Being prepared will help you to help make the best decisions possible when Mom can’t make decisions on her own.
This article summarizes different precautionary measures: a health care proxy, trust, will, power of attorney, and the Five Wishes program that can help you put into place, so when an emergency strikes, your family is prepared.
Healthcare Proxy – a legal document whereby an individual appoints someone (an agent) to make healthcare decisions when they’re incapable of making them. If they’re capable, the proxy does not take effect; however, when the individual is declared incompetent by a physician, then the proxy becomes active. The agent, also called the Healthcare Power of Attorney, is someone to be trusted by the individual. Healthcare proxies vary from state-to-state, but share common guidelines:
- Name and address of the agent/alternate agent
- Duration of the proxy
- Special instructions based on the individual’s desires (if none are listed, the agent can have flexibility with feeding tubes, dialysis, blood transfusion, etc.)
- Instructions on tissue/organ/body donation
- Two adult witnesses
- A lawyer who might help draft the document
After the proxy is signed, copies are given to health care providers, the agent(s), and a close relative(s).
Will – a legal document giving instructions for distributing assets after you die. It allows you to select an executor to manage your assets, pay your debts, and handle any other administrative duties. You can name a guardian to raise your minor children if you should pass away and choose a property guardian to oversee assets you leave your children. A will is not expensive to set up and will prevent assets from going into probate, which takes months to resolve.
Trust – a legal relationship in which one person, the trustee, holds property (money, real estate, stocks, bonds, collections, business interests, personal possessions and automobiles, etc.) for the benefit of another, the beneficiary. Trusts are more expensive to set up and manage than wills, but upon the individual’s death, there is a shorter, less costly probate process. Trusts are private and are not made public like wills.
Power of Attorney (POA) – a written authorization by an individual to have an agent act for them in private affairs, business, or some other legal manner. Some jurisdictions require that POAs are notarized or witnessed.
The agent (i.e., the attorney-in-fact, stakeholder, trustee, or fiduciary) takes custody of the individual’s funds and pays all necessary bills. The POA is effective after the individual loses mental capacity. Many institutions, such as hospitals, nursing homes, banks, and the IRS, require a POA to be in writing and often need a copy for their records.
There are different types of POA: a special/limited POA is limited to a specific act; a general POA allows the agent to make all decisions related to personal/business; a temporary POA has a limited time period. The POA is ineffective if the individual dies or becomes “incapacitated”, unless the individual states in the original POA that it continues. This type of POA is called “power of attorney with durable provisions” or “enduring power of attorney”.
Five Wishes Program – a legal document that lets you plan in advance how you want to be cared for if you should become incapable of caring for yourself. It is sometimes referred to as an “advance directive”. It lists directions to your doctor and family on how you want to be treated. It does not meet legal requirements in every state and varies as to the need for signage, witnessing, and notarizing. The document outlines:
- Wish #1: Lets you choose the person you want to make decisions for you when you can’t make them yourself
- Wish #2: A living will that places in writing the kind of medical treatment you want and don’t want if you become seriously ill and can’t communicate
- Wishes #3 and #4: – Lets you describe how you want to be treated: pain management, personal grooming, bathing instructions, whether to be told about options for hospice, preference for being at home, desiring someone to pray by your bedside, etc.
- Wish #5: Gives you a chance to tell how you want to be remembered: funeral, memorial plans
In conclusion, there are several precautionary measures that when put in place can help ease the strain if your mother should experience a potential emergency. “Being prepared” goes a long way in turning a potentially more difficult situation into something more manageable. It allows your mother’s wishes to be fulfilled while eliminating the stress of making important decisions especially when there are multiple family members involved.
The author, Ryan McEniff, is a senior care expert and the owner of Minute Women Home Care, a home health care agency located in Lexington, MA.