Before they die, persons not only should decide who will receive their assets, but also how they will live their last days or years if death is not sudden.
Some put off planning who will make health care or business decisions if a person’s health is declining and he or she cannot “because none of us likes to think about our own mortality. We don’t like to think we’re going to be incapacitated,” explained Batesville attorney Doug Wilson to about 70 attendees at an Oct. 17 meeting organized by Ripley County Extension Homemakers and the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service office in Ripley County.
To have control over decisions, a person can sign one or more of three types of documents: durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney and living will.
A durable power of attorney is a document signed in front of a notary. “You appoint somebody else to have the power to sign your name” so that bills can be paid and tax returns filed. The attorney pointed out, “A power of attorney can be very limited.” For instance, a husband who will be out of town on business could sign a durable power of attorney authorizing his wife to sign paperwork to buy a new house. The document can become effective immediately or spring into effect when the person becomes disabled. A physician makes that call.
The health care power of attorney, also called a health care representative appointment, gives a designated person the power to consent to surgery or withhold medical treatment and say, “‘That’s enough. We’re not going to do that’” at the end of life. The document allows that person to have access to health care information and talk to health care providers.
Different persons can be named in separate documents. Wilson gave an example: “I want my son to be my business power of attorney. He’s an accountant and will do a good job.” But the client wanted a daughter to be the health care representative because she’s a nurse.
The third document to consider is a living will. It can state that if a doctor certifies in writing the person is going to die shortly, “I don’t want every life-prolonging procedure ... because I don’t want to artificially prolong the dying process,” but simply be made comfortable. The attorney advised, “I think a living will is important because it expresses your intent. It’s important for your children and other loved ones to know that. Some physicians hesitant to act on a living will,” but will trust a health care representative’s decision. “I think it’s important to have both of those.”
One attendee asked if these documents should be carried while traveling. Wilson said it’s a good idea. If there’s an illness or accident on the road, “a hospital will ask, ‘Do you have any advance directives?’”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
Second in a two-part series • Part 1: Estate planning, Oct. 25