Blank form of the living will on a desk

by Jeff Deiss

CFP, AEP, Wealth Advisor

We’ve written recently about focusing on what you can control and using COVID-19 downtime to tackle issues you may not normally get to.

We’re being a little more specific today. The pandemic has reminded us all just how important our health is—and making sure we have the right plans in place for ourselves and our loved ones should we fall ill.

Generally, when it comes to making important health care and “life or death” decisions, the following key legal documents should be available to the family to ensure that your loved one’s or your wishes are carried out:

  • Living will (aka Advance Directive)
  • Health Care Proxy (aka Health Care Power of Attorney)
  • HIPAA Authorization

What is a living will?

A living will allows someone to state their wishes regarding certain kinds of medical treatments, as well as life-prolonging and end-of-life procedures. This document typically takes effect if someone cannot communicate their own health care decisions, which is likely the case when someone is on a ventilator for treating a COVID-19 related illness. The benefit of a living will is that it helps ensure health care wishes are carried out so that family members are not in the position of having to make difficult decisions on their own. Many state laws dictate the form and content of living wills; the enforceability of living wills also varies by state.

All adults should have a living will in addition to the two documents that follow. If you have one already, you may consider updating it to consider “maintenance of respiration” under the definition of medical treatment and adding language for how your health care proxy (aka power of attorney or POA) can communicate with medical staff (email, facetime or other video conferencing service).

What is a health care proxy?

A health care proxy (POA) grants authority to another person to make medical decisions on a person’s behalf when that person is not able to communicate decisions on their own. The health care proxy ends when the person granting authority revokes it, or dies.

Make sure the person you name as your POA understands your wishes under certain circumstances and also has the emotional capacity to carry out your wishes. Keep a copy accessible and check with your primary care physician to see if they will also keep a copy on file. If you are hospitalized, make sure a copy is provided to the hospital upon admission.

What is HIPAA authorization?

A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization is a legal document that allows an individual’s health information to be used or disclosed to a third party, typically the individual named as health care POA. Without it, your family does not legally have access to your medical records. This waiver can be customized to some extent, allowing for sharing some information while keeping other information private.

If you’re comfortable that you’ve got your asset allocation and investment strategy in order, then remember that even the best investment management can be foiled by poor planning. Creating and updating your critical estate planning documents before an “event’ is critical to you getting the care you desire, to keeping your family healthy and functional while dealing with an event and also to allow them to make important decisions in conjunction with your health care providers.

As we’ve mentioned in a prior post on May 18, most states have passed legislation allowing for remote or online “notarization” of these type of documents. If you are not sure how to proceed, reach out to your ACM Wealth Advisor who can provide you with a complimentary “estate planning assessment” to make sure you’ve got things in order.

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