Protecting Yourself When You Are Elderly
Q. I am a 78 year old widow. I’m in good health. I walk every morning and I’m still all there mentally. But I’m worried about what might happen if I get into a serious accident or have a stroke or something. My daughter tells me I should see a lawyer to have some papers drawn up. What is she referring to?
A. Your daughter is probably three different legal documents which are known as Advanced Care Directives: Designation of Health Care Surrogate, Durable Power of Attorney and Written Declaration (also know as Living Will). In the first document, you could appoint your daughter or anyone else you trust as your Surrogate to make a health care decision for you during a period of incapacity. You could name alternates if your first choice is unable to serve.
The Surrogate is legally authorized to make all kinds of medical decisions for you. This includes legal consent to give or withhold medication, diagnostic procedures and surgery. The Surrogate can authorize admission or discharge from the hospital, even against medical advice. The hospital or doctor is legally obligated to follow the Surrogate’s directions. In fact, the doctors are grateful when this document exists because it gets them off the legal hook. The Living Will is the so-called “Pulling the Plug” document. It takes affect when there is no hope to save you and keeping you alive on machines will only artificially prolong the inevitable.
In the Durable Power of Attorney, you appoint someone to manage your affairs. The duties include writing checks on your account to pay your bills, buying and selling stocks and bonds, collecting rents or other payments and signing legal contracts.
Both documents are important protections for you while you are alive. Husbands and wives can appoint each other with alternates if one is unable to serve. Remember that the documents remain valid only during your lifetime. Upon your death, your death, your will or living trust takes effect.
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