The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy and the collective health of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Seniors are among the most vulnerable, and tragedy has hit far too many families. Accordingly, the crisis has had the effect of bringing health care estate planning into focus. Many people think of estate planning as involving wills, trusts, and future tax avoidance strategies, but did you know that establishing health care contingencies can be an enormously important aspect of any comprehensive plan?

Ensuring key documents are in place prior to an emergency situation can be the best way for families to prepare. Family members may also be able to act in accordance with a senior loved one’s wishes as they are spelled out in their estate planning documents. Health care considerations in estate planning may provide critical protections for you and your family. Let us discuss what you and your family should avoid when making health care decisions right now.

  • Not having a binding plan. The biggest flaw in preparing for future emergencies may be not having a plan, or the legal authority to execute a plan. What would you do if a senior parent became gravely ill and you had no legal right to make decisions for him or her? Do not wait for tragedy to strike to discover your options may be limited. Take the time to establish a health care surrogate, living will, and other critical health documents now.
  • Failing to include a durability feature. One of the most important estate items can be a power of attorney. This gives a trusted individual, known as an agent, the authority to act on the elder adult’s behalf. There are different kinds of powers of attorney, such as those limiting an agent’s purview to health care decisions, or an all-encompassing general power of attorney. In any case, it should include a durability feature that allows for the agent to make decisions for the elder adult if they become physically incapacitated or mentally incompetent.
  • Not understanding how to use health documents. Health care estate documents generally provide instructions for how family members should make decisions on behalf of a principal adult, and then provide them with the power to act. Failing to understand the arrangements can lead to unnecessary delays in care or a violation of the aging adult’s express wishes. 
  • Not seeking professional guidance. Each state has its own estate planning requirements. Relying on potentially inaccurate, poorly crafted, outdated, or otherwise not legally sound documents may not be worth the risk. Seeking guidance from an estate planning attorney may not only provide peace of mind, but you can be presented with options tailored to maximize the effectiveness of a plan in light of an individual family’s circumstances.

If you or someone you know would like more information about securing important health care documents for a senior loved one, our office is here to help. Feel free to reach out to us to schedule a meeting.