Getting Their Papers – And Your Life – In Order
An essential element in managing another person’s life is securing the paperwork that says you have the authority to do so.
From making medical decisions to filing taxes to dealing with the cable company, if you are the primary caregiver, you will be asked over and over again to produce proof that you have the right to speak and make decisions for your loved one. The documents that give you that authority are called advance directives. And luckily, they are easy to create and legally file.
What You Need
Advance directives are legal documents that ensure a person’s wishes concerning their healthcare and finances are carried out should they become unable to express them. The documents you definitely should have for your loved one and yourself include:
- A living will
- A healthcare power of attorney
- A will
- A durable power of attorney
In simple terms, the living will addresses end-of-life issues, such as requesting or withholding medical treatments.
The healthcare power of attorney is broader and allows the person that they appoint, also known as their proxy, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. For instance, if your loved one were in a stable coma, his or her healthcare proxy could make decisions about his or her everyday care. Both the living will and the healthcare power of attorney are only activated when a physician declares the patient unable to give consent.
A will deals with the division of property and assets after death.
The durable power of attorney allows the appointment of a person to manage financial affairs should your loved one become incapacitated. Your loved one decides on the scope of the durable power of attorney and under what conditions it is activated. Durable power of attorney ends at death. The executor of a will, who can be the same person who has durable power of attorney, then takes charge of the estate and financial affairs.
In truth, we all should have these documents on file no matter our age. Consider while you are helping your loved one to create theirs that you and other family members might consider creating and filing your own.
Put It In Writing
You don’t have to use an attorney to create advance directives, but you may feel a lot more secure using one.
North Carolina living will and healthcare power of attorney instructions and forms are available at https://www.sosnc.gov/ahcdr/. This site also has a registry where you can file up to four advance directive documents for easy access. In addition, most area hospitals and hospice organizations have forms on site and are glad to help you with them. Be aware, however, that these directives must be properly executed and witnessed to be valid.
Will and durable power of attorney forms can be downloaded online as well. However, unless your life is super simple, think twice about executing these documents without an attorney. An attorney can be especially helpful if you have multiple marriages, stepchildren, grandchildren, a large estate, or other more complex life situations. With all advance directives, there is a lot to consider that is unique to your loved one and you. A lot is riding on the paperwork being properly done. While you can “do it yourself,” talking with a professional is prudent.
What the Documents Should Say
The actual directives in advance directives are up to the person the document represents. The downloadable forms themselves work as good prompts to ensure you ask and answer the right questions and cover all the bases.
These documents, however, cannot address every eventuality. So just as important as getting the person’s wishes down on paper is making sure that all involved understand the underlying spirit of those wishes. A family meeting is a great way to accomplish this. Have a frank discussion face to face with all concerned parties, where people can ask questions, sort out misunderstanding and come to terms with what their loved one wants. Such a meeting—strengthened by legal documents that reflect the content of the meeting—provides the proxy and other family members with direction and peace of mind when tough decisions may need to be made.
Who Should Have the Power?
The toughest decision for many when putting these documents together is deciding who should receive their healthcare and durable powers of attorney. Obviously, the proxy needs to be someone who knows the person and sees their life in context. They should understand the responsibilities and agree to the job.
Though a spouse seems like the natural choice, they might not be the best choice. Typically, spouses are about the same age, so issues of aging can present problems.
Appointing all children equally is another popular option. However, before making such a decree, consider, based on past experience, if this sibling group can reach consensus on sometimes complicated and tension-filled decisions. On the other hand, appointing one child as the sole proxy can open its own can of worms.
If the family dynamic won’t fare well with a group or individual being appointed, consider asking a close family friend or appointing a professional to do the job.
Whomever you choose, think about the person’s natural strengths and weaknesses. One child or close friend might be great for financial matters while another might be better with healthcare issues.
Situations do change over time so update all directives every five years or so to be sure they still reflect the person’s circumstances and desires.
Last but far from least, once completed, keep a file at home with several copies of all advance directives. Scan these documents into your computer for quick reference and the ability to send them electronically to any appropriate entity that needs them. Remember you can also register four of your loved-one’s advance directives with North Carolina at https://www.sosnc.gov/ahcdr/. And keep an electronic set on your phone because, as a caregiver, you will be asked to produce this paperwork more times than you can imagine.