For many families, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of estate planning. Having legally sound financial and health care documents in place for at-risk seniors provides peace of mind during dangerous and uncertain times. Whereas not having them, can be deeply troubling. How can you help elder loved ones in these uncertain times? As the coronavirus lingers, family members can help senior loved ones secure vital estate-related health documents that will allow action on a moment’s notice. Let us take a moment to review four tips for avoiding common health care mistakes:
- Talk to an aging loved one about his or her wishes. The only thing worse than not having important health care documents may be having poorly crafted, inaccurate, or out-of-date documents. In order to maximize the benefits of estate planning, you should know about your loved one’s wishes. Family members can help by having discussions with senior loved ones to identify specific desires and enshrining them in estate documents. This can provide much needed clarity during difficult times.
- Keep important health care documents on file. People sometimes assume that health documents are universal. That is, if a senior adult has a power of attorney that names an adult child as their agent or attorney-in-fact, then that legal arrangement will be recognized across health providers. Power of attorney documents, living wills, and other such items can be, however, essentially useless if they are not presented at the time of service or kept on file in the senior’s medical record. How else would a provider know? Family members can help avoid problems, especially in emergency situations, by circulating copies of important health documents to any health provider an elder relative regularly sees.
- Take the time to properly execute health documents. It may seem unthinkable given the stakes, but it happens all the time. Living wills, powers of attorney, health care privacy releases, and similar estate documents are often produced without proper guidance, and well-meaning family members can run afoul of basic requirements and not even know it until tragedy strikes. Every state has its own rules and too often people either ignore them or fail to understand what is required.
- Consult an estate planning attorney. For the same reason you would consult a mechanic to fix an engine, or a surgeon to perform an operation, an estate planning attorney is uniquely qualified to craft legally sound health documents to account for individual families. Do not wait for an emergency to attempt to update an estate plan, or to take estate planning seriously.
If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on related legal matters, our office is here to answer questions and provide sound legal counsel. Please feel free to reach out to us and schedule a meeting.