People tend to think of estate planning as a purely financial matter, and this is definitely at the core. At the same time, it is important to prepare for end-of-life eventualities. When you address the possible challenges in advance, you can be sure that your wishes will be carried out.
Advance Directives for Healthcare
The lifespan for Americans is right around 78 years, but this includes people that pass away at all ages. Once you reach the age of 67, your life expectancy is 85 years if you are a man, and it is 87 years for a woman.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about one third of elders that are at least 85 years of age contract the disease. People with Alzheimer’s induced dementia are going to become unable to handle their own affairs at some point in time. And of course, this is not the only underlying cause of dementia.
In fact, more than one half of people that are residing in nursing homes have some form of cognitive impairment. There are also people that cannot communicate sound decisions because of physical ailments.
Aside from the oldest elders, there are younger folks that face possible death due to illnesses and injuries sustained in accidents. That’s a heartbreaking thought, but it’s part of the human condition. You never know what the future holds, and anything can happen to anyone with no warning whatsoever.
A solid estate plan will include an incapacity planning component, and advance directives for health care are important pieces to this puzzle. A health care proxy allows you to designate someone to make all health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so, including life ending decisions. You name an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf in this document. New York State has chosen this document rather than the living will as the primary healthcare documents.
Another advance directive that we believe should be part of the plan is a living will in which you can state your choices regarding the utilization of feeding tubes, artificial hydration, mechanical ventilation, and resuscitation. We suggest this document because it is often gut wrenching for a loved one to determine whether to keep you on life-support or to take you off it. Having already made these decisions allows your healthcare proxy to know your wishes with regard to when to remove you from life-support, and, as a result, they can become your advocate rather than an emotional, confused loved one. They can become your advocate to allow you to die with dignity.
In 1996, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and it was signed into law by the president. The purpose of the measure is to ensure patient privacy. One provision in HIPAA prevents doctors from sharing health care information with anyone other than the patient.
Because of this restriction, when you are developing your incapacity plan, you should add a HIPAA release. This will give your healthcare agent, and anyone else that you add, the ability to communicate with your doctors and access your health records.
This law applies to all people that are 18 years of age and older. If you have a child that has become a legal adult, they would be protected by HIPAA. The doctors would not be able to talk to you about their medical conditions without their permission.
With this in mind, you should explain the situation to your child and help them put an incapacity plan in place. Your adult child should also make their own life support choices.
Financial Power of Attorney
In addition to the medical side of things, and end-of-life plan should address financial decision-making. You can use a durable power of attorney for property to name someone to manage your financial affairs in the event of your incapacity. The “durable” part is important, because this type of power of attorney would remain in effect if you become incapacitated.
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Now is the time for action if you are not prepared for possible incapacity late in your life. We would be glad to help you include these protective documents in your broad, holistic plan.