It can be hard to imagine a time when you will not be able to make decisions for yourself. Unfortunately, this is something that a lot of elders experience. About one third of people that are at least 85 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this is not the only cause of dementia.
Of course, there are other conditions that can cause incapacity in other forms. Once you reach the age of 67, your life expectancy is at least 85 years, so this is something that everyone should take seriously.
Obviously, this is not a pleasant subject to think about, but aging is part of life. There is no way to get around it, so the best thing you can do is plan for possible incapacity in a practical way.
Advance Directives for Health Care
Your overall estate plan should include legal tools that address this threat. Advance health care directives will be part of the plan, and one of them is a healthcare proxy.
In your healthcare proxy, you name someone to act as your health care representative. If you become incapacitated, your agent would be able to make all medical decisions on your behalf, including life-support matters. This document is what New York State Legislature felt was most appropriate for New Yorkers.
Our experience is that while the healthcare proxy gives your healthcare representative the ability to make life-support decisions, it does not give them any guidance as to your feelings on when it would be appropriate to remove you from life-support. We suggest you record life support preferences in a living will. You can address each separate life support technique allowing you to refuse some of them and accept others. A living will can include organ and tissue donation choices, and you can express comfort care medication preferences.
If you do not have a living will, and the question of life-support arises, your healthcare proxy, often your closest living relative, would have to make the extremely difficult choice on your behalf. This is such a complicated decision to make for someone else, and it is not fair to put anyone in this position.
More importantly, you probably have your own ideas about life-support, so you should make sure that you record them in a living will. While not binding on your proxy, it takes the emotion out of the decision because you have already chosen when to terminate your life-support. They can be an advocate on your behalf, rather than agonize over whether to end the life of their loved one.
In addition to the medical documents, your incapacity plan should address financial decision-making. When you understand the benefits, you may decide to use a living trust to serve as the centerpiece of your estate plan.
If you have this type of trust, you could name a disability trustee to manage the trust if it ever becomes necessary. A durable power of attorney for property can be added to name someone to handle assets that are in your direct personal possession.
Caregiver Support Resources
A lot of people take care of their aging parents, and some of them are actively parenting children at the same time. These folks are part of the “sandwich generation,” and it is pretty hard to juggle these important responsibilities.
Whether your children are grown or not, caregiving can be draining emotionally and physically. At some point, they may you need a level of care that you simply cannot provide by yourself.
There are some resources out there that you can tap into if you are in this situation. You can find out about them if you visit the NYC Department of Aging website.
Another resource that can be a lifesaver in some cases is the Home and Community-Based Services Waiver. This is a government program that will pay for in-home care if the patient can qualify.
You can find out more about the waiver if you head over to the New York Department of Health waiver page.
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We got into the elder law field because we sincerely care about the well-being of our neighbors and their families. It is rewarding to be there for people when they need sound advice, and we know exactly how to help you prepare yourself these difficult situations.