Spring Cleaning – Time to get your Affairs in Order
As you complete your annual Spring cleaning, consider adding the review of your legal documents to your list. You should review these documents to ensure they still reflect your current wishes and appoint someone who is still willing and able to act on your behalf. For those who have never drafted any legal documents, it is important for all adults to have the following:
- Advance Directive – A document which makes provisions for health care decisions in the event you become unable to make those decisions. There are two types or parts of Advance Directives – a Living Will, which instructs physicians to withdraw or withhold medical interventions if you are in a terminal condition and are unable to make decisions; and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, or a Healthcare Agent. A Healthcare Agent is someone who makes decisions in the event that you are unable to do so.
- Financial Power of Attorney – This is a document that appoints someone to act on your behalf for financial matters. This document can be used by your appointee if you are hospitalized or incapacitated and unable to manage your financial affairs.
- Last Will and Testament – This specifies what your wishes are for finances and belongings after you pass away.
When appointing a Healthcare Agent, the best family member or friend to appoint may not always be the person who lives in closest proximity, but rather the person who is most able to honor your medical wishes. Keep in mind that these decisions may be emotional and take place in a stressful situation, and consider who is best able to make decisions under those circumstances.
If you do not appoint a Healthcare Agent, and are unable to make medical decisions, healthcare providers will follow state surrogacy laws. In the State of Maryland, the spouse is the surrogate decision maker, including if you are legally separated but not divorced. If there is no surviving spouse, all adult children are equal decision makers, which can not only create conflict amongst siblings but can also make it difficult to come to consensus regarding healthcare decisions.
The State of Maryland provides an Advance Directive document that can be completed on your own (https://www.oag.state.md.us/healthpol/AdvanceDirectives.htm). An Elder law or Estate Planning attorney can assist in drafting these documents tailored to your specific needs.
Wendy Miller is a licensed clinical social worker, an Aging Life Care Specialist™ and the Principal of Annapolis Senior Care Solutions (www.annapolisseniors.com). Please contact her at 410-834-1452 or firstname.lastname@example.org with specific questions or concerns regarding senior care planning.