Fresno Estate Planning Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Answers to 5 Do or Die Questions About Healthcare Powers of Attorney - Part II

The following is Part Two of a two part series.  Enjoy and feel free to send comments.   I always enjoy thoughtful discussion and I will post responses that I think will add to the understanding of our readers. 

In the first blog on this topic, we discussed the first three answers to the 5 questions about healthcare powers of attorney.  Now for the next two!

Where should I keep my power of attorney for health care?

A well drafted power of attorney can be quite a few pages and although some do, you probably do not want to walk around with a wad of paper with you.  There are several options available.  Estate planning attorneys often use services that allow them to create a card for you, much like a credit card.  With your permission, your documents are saved by a company that specializes in this service.  If you are unconscious, the first thing the billing staff at the hospital does is to look for your insurance card.  This card, kept in your wallet, has an 800 number and a pin number on it.  When the hospital calls, your powers of attorney and contact information is faxed to the hospital.

Another option is a similar service but instead of an 800 number, a website is on the card.  With this service, both your legal documents for healthcare and your legal documents for finances can be stored. 

Finally, some people will download the information to a thumb drive that they carry with them on a key chain.  There is one company that makes jewelry with the thumb drive hidden in the jewelry so you can wear it inconspicuously around your neck. 

All of these methods are only going to work if the medical team knows to look for the card or jewelry so it is important to let your doctor and local hospital know ahead of time you have this service.  As the popularity of this method grows, awareness in the medical field will also.

What do I do if the hospital says I HAVE to sign their forms?

First, know your rights.  You do not have to substitute the hospital’s power of attorney for your own and usually, it is a bad idea.  If you have taken the trouble to hire an attorney, you have most likely taken the time to think through the important decisions associated with this when you have a clear mind and time to think.  Standing in the hospital in an emergency situation, few people make the clearly reasoned decisions that they would make without the pressure.

POLST forms are the newest form created to assist medical personnel in treating you.  You should never sign a POLST form unless you first discuss it at length with both your doctor AND your attorney.  If you sign this form, it can be used to undo all the planning you did with your attorney.  CANHR has already reported an instance of the form being filled out by a doctor without consulting the patient and telling the patient they have to sign it.  YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN THIS FORM.  More on this in another blog.

If you are told you MUST sign their papers and you have to get care, mark on the form that it was signed under duress and keep a copy.  This means you were essentially forced to sign and the document should not hold up in court.  Instead, your well thought out power of attorney for healthcare will govern. 

If you do not have a power of attorney for healthcare and the hospital presents you with one, it is wise to read it carefully and if you can, have someone you trust read it with you.  Only then, make the decisions as best you can and sign.  But, the best choice is to plan ahead.

My next blog will address the new POLST forms and what you should know about them.  Stay tuned!

Best Wishes for Health, Wealth, and Happiness,
Marcella Downing, Esq.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Answers to 5 Do or Die Questions About Healthcare Powers of Attorney - Part I

We never know when we need to have others make decisions for us.  But, when we do, it is best to have gotten the answers to how to do it and who should do this for us in advance.  Planning is just not possible if you are unconscious!  So, assuming we are all conscious here...what do we need to know about healthcare powers of attorney to help us take control of our lives if they get out of our control?

1) What is a power of attorney for health care?

A power of attorney for health care, otherwise known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare, is a legal document which any doctor or emergency response personnel is required to follow when taking care of you.  This document gives your medical team the directions that you would give if you were conscious and able to speak for yourself

2) What kind of care do I want under what circumstances?

Do you want to be resuscitated?  Do you want a feeding tube, do I you want hydration (water), do you want pain relief and do you want it even if it could reduce your life span?

Do I want the same decisions to be made if I am not likely to live due to a disease as if I am chronically ill but likely to live a long time with certain care?  Do I want transfusions?   These and many more questions will be asked of you when you have a power of attorney drafted.  Considerations that go into these decisions involve religious views, financial considerations, reactions to pain, and just how you want to live your life.  It does not get any more personal than this.

3) Who should I choose to make sure my directions are followed when I cannot speak for myself?

These are life and death decisions.  Choose wisely.  Ideally you want to choose someone who loves you and knows you well but is willing to put your wishes ahead of their own even under pressure.  No power of attorney can spell out every circumstance that life can present to you.  Will the holder of this power know you well enough to apply your stated decisions and make the right decision if the situation is in that grey area? 

Stay tuned for Part II!  Good Health to You!
Marcella Downing

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