With COVID-19 ravaging the country, doctors across the nation are raising their voices alongside lawyers in urging Americans to create proper estate planning documents so that medical providers can provide better care should they become hospitalized with the virus.
Of the estate planning documents, the most critical right now are the medical power of attorney and the living will. These advanced healthcare directives work together to appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and give precise instructions on how you want your treatment and end-of-life care to be handled.
COVID-19 is such an unprecedented problem that even if you already have these documents in place and ready in case of your incapacity, it is still a good idea to revisit them and ensure that they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus that might not have seemed necessary before.
All adults over 18 years old should have the documents in place. However, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the need is particularly urgent. Contact us right away if you or anyone in your family needs these documents created.
And if you’d like to listen in on a training with my mentor on when you can create these documents yourself, when you need a lawyer, what it should cost, and how to get your documents done right, please listen to it now by registering at PersonalResourceMap.com.
Medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows you to name a person, known as your “agent,” to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself. For example, if you are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need to be placed in a medically induced coma, this person would have the legal authority to advise doctors about your subsequent medical care.
Without a medical power of attorney, physicians will generally look to someone in your family to make these decisions for you and if no family can be located, they may ask the court to appoint a legal guardian to be the decision maker. In either case, the person given this responsibility could be someone you’d never want having power over such life-or-death decisions.
While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will details how your care should be handled. For example, if you should become seriously ill and unable to manage your own treatment, a living will can guide your agent to make these medical decisions on your behalf.
These decisions could include if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you. A living will prevents your family from having to undergo needless stress and conflict, while also ensuring there are no questions in how you want your treatments to go.
Keep your directives updated
Is the agent named in your medical power of attorney still the individual you’d want making these decisions? Has your health changed in ways that might affect your living will’s instructions? Are you values and wishes regarding end-of-life still the same? These are the questions you need to consider when reviewing your estate plan in the current world. The highly contagious and life-threatening nature of the coronavirus is something medical providers have never dealt with before and it has strained our nation’s healthcare system to the breaking point, so any kind of clarity you can give to your medical team is crucial.
In wake of COVID-19, there are a few unique circumstances you need to be aware of when drafting these documents to ensure all of the potential scenarios related to the coronavirus and its treatment have been properly addressed.
Don’t do it yourself: While you’ll find a wide selection of generic, advance-directive documents online, you shouldn’t trust these do-it-yourself forms to adequately address such critical decisions. This is especially true during the ongoing pandemic, when doctors are constantly tasked with making highly difficult and uncertain decisions for patients suffering from this deadly new virus.
When it comes to your medical treatment and end-of-life care, you have unique needs and wishes that just can’t be anticipated by fill-in-the-blank documents. To ensure your directives are specifically tailored to suit your unique situation, and thus especially clear when doctors are attempting to treat you, you must work with experienced planning professionals like us to create—or at the very least, review—your medical power of attorney and living will.
Open lines of communication: Because of the contagious nature of COVID-19, family members of those who’ve contracted the virus are often not allowed to accompany them to the hospital, which means your agent likely won’t be there in person to make your treatment decisions. While most advance directives give your agent broad authority to communicate with your medical providers, the documents may not explicitly authorize certain types of remote communication.
To remedy this, you may want to consider adding language to your directives expressly authorizing your agent to give directions by phone, Zoom, email, Skype, FaceTime, and other methods. To facilitate this communication, you should bring copies of your directives with you to the hospital to give your doctors, and ensure your agent (and any alternate agents named) have updated copies on-hand as well.
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical need for advanced directives in the age of COVID-19. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.