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  • Marla Roeser

Taking Care Of Loved Ones In This Uncertain, Scary Time

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

You are worried about your loved ones. Elderly relatives or loved ones may fall ill and they may live far away. Here is how you can be prepared to care for them. A healthcare power of attorney assigns someone to be your healthcare agent, meaning your loved ones can assign you to be their healthcare agent. A healthcare agent advocates, consults with doctors, and makes medical decisions in the event you fall ill can’t make your own healthcare decisions.

The State of Maryland Office of the Attorney General published a guide and forms allowing you to assign a healthcare agent who:

  • makes medical decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself (“incapacity”),

  • communicates with your doctors if you can’t make medical decisions for yourself,

  • is allowed to receive protected health information which relates to that issue and relevant medical records (“HIPAA authorization”),

  • follows advance directives about your preferences about treatments that may be used to sustain your life in the event you are terminally ill (“Advance Directive or Living Will”), and

  • carries out your instructions for what happens to your body and organs after death.

When I design a comprehensive estate plan for a client, assigning a healthcare agent in the event of incapacity is a critical component. I ask clients who would be the best healthcare advocate for you if you can’t be one for yourself? Who do you trust? Who would be a good back up agent, or two, in case your first choice isn’t available? I also advice clients to have the difficult discussions with their agent, so the agent has a clear understanding of how they want to be treated. You communicate your wants and needs in terms of your medical treatment to your healthcare agent and if you can’t make decisions and communicate for yourself, your agent will be able to advocate for your medical preferences.

The advance directive/living will component of this form and instructions for after death can be uncomfortable to think about. Many haven’t thought much about how they would want to die if they were terminally ill or at an end-stage illness or if they want to donate organs or be cremated. The living will or advance directive dictates when life sustaining treatments, nutrition, and hydration should be removed or not. It also can be used to address body donation, organ donation cremation, religious ceremony preferences etc. instructions for after we die. Someone will have to make those decisions and it may as well be you.

This form can be filled out without an attorney, however, consulting an estate planning attorney to help you select your agents, advise you and your agents, and draft your documents can ease stress, ensure an experienced professional weighs in, and explain how it all works. In order for the power to be effective, two witness’s signatures are needed.

Once executed, give copies of your signed healthcare power of attorney to your agent, backup agent, and family members who should know your wishes.

A comprehensive estate plan includes planning for death AND incapacity! A healthcare power of attorney and advance directive are an essential part of an overall estate plan that also includes a will or living trust, financial power of attorney, beneficiary designations and if minor children are involved, a standby guardianship. But if all that seems like too much right this second, the healthcare power or attorney is a mighty powerful tool!

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