Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If someone you love became sick or disabled very fast, would you know what to do and have authority to do so?

Not long ago, a relative of mine lived happily alone, drove his car to restaurants, ran his own errands, and kept his own doctors' appointments.  One day this changed in a matter of minutes as he suddenly lost his situational awareness and his balance while on an outing with his family.
                
Fortunately, he had done three things right prior to the emergency that made him helpless:
1.  He had signed an advanced healthcare directive, sometimes called a "living will", so that the doctors and medical staff would have no doubt of his intentions and which members of his family had authority to make decisions.
2.  He had signed a financial power of attorney so that one of his sons had authority to pay his bills and care for his property while he was sick.
3.  He had told his family where these documents were so they could find them and present them when needed.
                
Altogether he was out of commission for three months.  During that time his family had to take charge of all his affairs.  His family had considerable difficulty finding the right hospital for the situation, but in the geriatric unit of the second hospital he improved significantly and was eventually discharged to a rehabilitation facility where he regained most of his energy, balance, and coordination. 
     
Preparing for such an emergency is difficult because no one wants to discuss illness and death.  An elderly person can develop an asymptomatic infection that can cause confusion, delirium, and hallucinations.  Do you know which hospitals in your area have geriatric units?  Do you know which geriatric units are part of locked-down psychiatric units and which are not?  There is a big difference!  Do you know what medications your close relatives take and their side effects?

There is a good chance that someone you love will "have a spell" and not be able to make personal decisions or even sign checks.  An experienced lawyer can advise you on healthcare directives and financial powers of attorney as well as guardianships, conservatorships, and trusts if need be.  Before an emergency strikes, there are legal means of granting appropriate powers to family members or friends.

There is nothing simple about the statutes of living wills.  I placed the links below not so you would say, "Anyone can do this!" but to underline the complexities involved and to encourage you to contact an attorney you trust in your state to help you with your estate planning.
Ala. Code Section 22-8A-4
Georgia's living will statute