Monday, May 20, 2013

We Are Family: Part One, Living Wills and Powers of Attorney

After attending a family reunion this past weekend, I realized there are things many of you need to think about as you and/or your family live through the challenges of today and continue to change and age. Chiefly, you need to determine your wishes regarding how you will be treated medically, your wishes regarding care of your minor children, as well as your desires regarding the disposition of your property.  In this three part series, I will discuss living wills and powers of attorney, options for the care of your children in the event of a catastrophe or death, and finally, wills.  First things first, let's discuss living wills and powers of attorney. 

Sure, it's a lot easier to avoid these topics when things are going well. However, when things are going well, you are able to express your wishes and let your loved ones know how you want things handled.  An attorney can assist you in safeguarding your loved ones from headaches if something were to happen. 

You should consider having an attorney draft a living will and/or a durable healthcare power of attorney for you.  In a living will, you may designate a person to make decisions on your behalf, medically, should you no longer be able to do so.  You may also determine what measures you will allow to prolong life in the face of a terminal illness or an emergency medical situation.  The living will or healthcare power of attorney would provide your family clarity and information regarding your wishes and beliefs related to medical care. It would also allow a designated person or  persons to make medical decisions on your behalf when those decisions are necessary.  This would provide clarity to both your family members and your medical providers, in addition to assisting you in attaining the best healthcare in a timely manner, should you be incapable of consenting to certain necessary procedures.  There would be no question as to whom the doctors or other treatment providers could turn if decisions were needed, as you would have already designated an appropriate person.  No court or other body would decide who had this power in your life. You, with careful and strategic planning, would make these decisions before the emergencies happened.

An attorney may also draft a power of attorney allowing a personal representative, of your choosing, to handle finances and other aspects of daily life, short of medical decision-making.  It is a good idea to have a power of attorney designated in case you become incapacitated.  If your mental faculties or health decline, and you have an appointed personal representative with power of attorney to deal with your day to day decisions, your bills would be paid; your care would be seen to, and you would have made the decision about whom to designate with these powers when things were going well for you; rather than have a court or someone else determine who shall make the decisions.

As I visited with family from all over the country at the family reunion, I realized, while not fun, it is sometimes good to think about how you want to deal with things when life is not optimal.  I have spent some time discussing these issues with family members, as it is important for all of us to be prepared in the event something were to happen.  I'd take the bull by the horns and get in to see an attorney before the emergencies of life happen.  Planning can both allow your wishes to be followed, and allow your family to have clarity and understanding about how to proceed should you not be able to do things on your own.

Stay tuned for the rest of the "We are Family," series.

*Nothing written or stated in this blog is meant to be legal advice forming an attorney/client relationship.  The statements are the opinion of the blogger only.