The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled virtually all of us to create a new normal in important areas of our lives. Major upheaval such as the current unprecedented medical and logistical realities may have prompted you to rethink—or consider for the first time—how you want your affairs handled if you become seriously ill.
The following tips will help you start, or review and update, the paperwork to help you and your loved ones ensure that a health emergency is addressed according to your wishes:
There is No Better Time to Start Than Now
You are far from alone if you have avoided thinking about legal medical documents until the current global pandemic hit. Many people use the buzz and hum of busy everyday life to avoid the discomfort of addressing what would happen if they become incapacitated or need end-of-life care.
If this describes you, know that many estate planning attorneys are available and experienced at meeting online and handling documentation via secure channels to provide virtual assistance. As financial planning professionals, we help coordinate these referrals and initiatives for our clients. You can get started even under social distancing directives to create documents or update those you already have in place. Online notarization varies according to state law.
Consider the Who as Carefully as the What
You need four important medical/legal documents in place to help ensure your affairs are handled according to your wishes if you cannot communicate them yourself:
- Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney – This document that designates a person, also known as a healthcare proxy or medical agent, who will make decisions about your healthcare if you are physically or mentally unable to communicate your wishes.
- Living Will – Sometimes called an “advance medical directive,” a living will provides written documentation of the procedures or medications you do and do not want to prolong your life.
- Durable Financial Power of Attorney – A document that designates the person (agent) who will manage your assets and make financial decisions if you become incapacitated.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) privacy waiver – This is an important document, as healthcare providers and facilities require this waiver before your agent can access your medical records. It is typically included in the HCPOA, but it’s always good to verify.
If you already have these documents in place, how might COVID-19 shift your thinking about their provisions?
- Documentation for medical agents, living wills, and advance directives often declare that a person does not wish to be kept alive using artificial means. Treatment of those seriously ill with COVID-19, however, usually requires a ventilator to do the work of the lungs to keep the blood oxygenated. Because a ventilator is considered artificial life support, you may want to reword your documents to make clear that you approve the use of a ventilator if doctors believe you have a chance for recovery to a specific level.
- You already know that your healthcare and financial agents need to be trustworthy and reliable, but should they also be close by? You may have named a beloved sibling, best friend, or adult child as your agent thinking he/she can hop a plane or train to be by your side. COVID-19 has reminded us that circumstances can become extreme enough to preclude commercial transportation or long drives. Consider choosing another agent or name an alternate, so someone is available to handle matters locally.
Health Emergency Planning is a Family Affair
Your spouse and every child over the age of 18 should also have complete and up-to-date medical documents, with copies stored where loved ones can reference them. Even if you have provided each agent and family member with relevant copies, make sure they are also on file with your attorney, financial planner, and healthcare providers. At FJY, we provide clients online access to their documents via secure login.
Take advantage of this time at home to address healthcare documents before a crisis strikes. FJY Financial stands ready to help you with your medical and other estate planning needs.