Legal Issues in Elder Care

Legal Issues in Elder Care

Growing older will force people to make life care decisions that affect medical and end of life concerns. These decisions about health and medical care are highly sensitive, and they deserve the strongest protection under the law. Therefore, when it comes to a person’s health care, the law is very strict about who participates in the care related discussions.

These sensitive documents are meant to protect you from someone else making medical decisions on your behalf. The legal forms will give you peace of mind and the guidance to the friends and family members during a medical or financial emergency.Unfortunately, adults rarely think about their beliefs and preferences regarding end-of-life decisions until a crisis occurs, a time when decision-making is most problematic. By not planning in advance means that a family member might not have access to the information they need, or to act on your behalf.

Here is a list of legal documents to put your affairs in order:

Power of Attorney

Give someone you trust the durable power of attorney and if you don’t have someone you trust, consult a professional. This allows that friend, family member, or professional to manage your affairs if you become sick and unable to do so yourself. It remains valid even if you become incapacitated.The document allows someone to:

  • Pay your bills
  • Deposit your checks
  • Manage your financial affairs
  • Manage your business if you have one

Older people live with at least one chronic condition or disability and as it worsens it could lead to impairment. The durable power of attorney allows you to maintain control and have a say about your finances.If you don't have a durable power of attorney for finances and you can’t manage them yourself, a judge will appoint someone to oversee your finances.

Write a will

A will establishes a person's wishes regarding distribution of property and the care of minor children upon their death. By drafting a will, you ensure that the properties and possessions go to the desired beneficiaries. Some states may require probate (a review) for validity but having a will speeds it up.It’s not required to hire an attorney to draw up a will but there are drawbacks with one that’s written by you. For example, you won’t be around to explain your wishes, or correct an error in expression. In a will, there’s little room for error.In most states, a will and durable power of attorney will take care of most things, eliminating the need for a trust.

Advanced-care directive or living will

The document gives a trusted friend, family member, or professional the medical power of attorney to carry out your health care treatment and wishes at the end of life. Name someone you have total trust in.Without one, an individual can end up like Quinlan, Cruzan, or Schiavo generating battles between spouses, parents, and siblings.What to know about advanced-care directives:

  • Everyone over 18 should have one.
  • Must be completed while you are competent to know what you are signing, i.e. without dementia.
  • Often used to decide on feeding tubes, ventilators and other treatments at the end of life or when someone is unconscious.
  • Only needs to be witnessed; does not need to be notarized.

Final wishes: the Funeral

Ease the distress of the survivors by planning ahead for the funeral. You can write your own obituary, and leave instructions on how you want your body to be disposed of.Donate your body and organs. Carry an organ donation card in your wallet and keep another one with the documents so that it’s found quickly. Check out the Science Care donor registry. And visit www.organdonor.gov for more information.Aging with Dignity has prepared a "Five Wishes" document that outlines the needed personal care decisions in plain English. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org or call 1-888-594-7437.Carol Marak is a contributor for the senior living and health care market. She advocates older adults and family caregivers by writing on tough topics like chronic issues, senior care and housing.