Caregiver Quiz: What Documents Do I Really Need?
FINALLY! We have a brand-new year and it’s off to a running start. There were times we weren’t sure we’d get here because the old year presented such profound challenges, but now that’s in the past. Starting today we can move forward, regarding the events of the last twelve months much like we would a CT scan with contrast—you know, the medical test which uses barium or iodine to make certain areas stand out for clarity. So, what exactly did last year highlight?
For one thing, caregiving issues have been moved front and center as the previous year has made many people realize how unprepared they are to care for their loved ones in the event of an emergency. As the world came face to face with the COVID-19 pandemic (which impacted virtually everyone on the planet) many people suddenly saw their loved ones being hospitalized with no one empowered to speak for them. This issue was compounded by the fact that often family members couldn’t even be present with their loved ones who were going into emergency rooms.
But even though the conversation has started, many would-be caregivers are still feeling confused. Now, it’s right here that things can take a decidedly dark turn if we freeze up and take no action. I’m encouraging everyone to embrace the opportunity for a fresh start, and what better place to begin than by ensuring that our care wishes are known—and that we know how our loved ones want to be cared for as well. Even if you already have your documents prepared, this is an excellent time to review them to be sure they’re still up-to-date.
I’m urging you to see an attorney to determine exactly what documents your home state requires should you suddenly need care, or if you had to step in and provide care for your loved one. However, it’s understood that not everyone has the funds readily available to draft a collection of legal documents. That’s ok; don’t abandon the notion just because it seems out of the budget. Try doing an internet search for “Free Legal Aid in—” followed by your location. There are a number of attorneys who participate in providing legal counsel pro bono (meaning they don’t charge for it). If you live in a city with a law school, check to see if they conduct workshops where documents can be drafted by third-year law students or graduates who are preparing for the Bar Exam.
Your “must have” documents are:
Durable Power of Attorney – a written document signed by a person giving another person the power to act in conducting the signer’s business, including signing papers, checks, title documents, contracts, handling bank accounts and other activities in the name of the person granting the power[i].
Medical Power of Attorney – this document performs like the durable power of attorney, except that it empowers the person named to make only medical decisions for the signer.
Advance Directive – a declaration by a person in relation to medical treatment (usually to instruct that it stop). This document is also referred to as a living will[ii].
Last Will and Testament – a document in which a person specifies the method to be applied in the management and distribution of his estate after his death[iii].
These documents are vitally important for you to specify how you want to be cared for as you age, and how you want your personal property distributed. They are equally important for you to have for your elderly loved ones; the level of care you can provide for them as they age is directly tied to how much authority they give you. An ER physician told me point blank that if my grandparents had not had these documents in place ahead of time, I would have had great difficulties providing proper care for them because I would have had no authority to act.
In 2019, I did a television interview talking about my book, Goodnight, Sweet: A Caregiver’s Long Goodbye, and as we were wrapping up, the reporter looked me squarely in my face and asked, “Do you have your documents prepared?” Happily, I was able to give her a resounding, “Yes, I do!”
Take the time to prepare now—in the event of an emergency you’ll be so glad you did. Happy 2021; have a very blessed New Year!