Wednesday, June 25, 2008

4 Must Have Documents During a Crisis

Two weeks after I moved in with Dad, he went into the hospital for an important heart-related procedure. Because of the possibility of adverse outcomes during or following the procedure, we made certain important legal documents were in place.

They were still in place when he went back to the hospital six months later in a diabetic coma. The medical staff kept me actively involved in the decision making process throughout his stay.

It is important as a caregiver that we know our loved one has expressed his or her wishes in writing. Those documents should include:

1. Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows a person to give another person the authority to make legal, financial, and medical decisions. Separate documents can be prepared for health care and for finances.

2. Advanced Directives, sometimes called medical advance directives. This legal document outlines a person’s decision as to how to treat them under certain medical conditions. This gives the senior a choice regarding the use of life support machines and possible resuscitation efforts.

People may or may not want extra measures performed in order to keep them alive. This document places the decision in the hands of the loved one rather than a family member or caregiver.

3. Living Will. A written document stating the care the patient does or does not want if incapacitated. A “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order may be included.

4. Will. This document states how an individual wants his or her estate distributed after death. It can include burial arrangements and wishes such as the desire for cremation.

Having documents such as these in place ahead of time allows the caregiver to know and follow the wishes of the senior when they can no longer speak for themselves. Preplanning will make decision making easier in case of a medical or financial crisis.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than a family squabbling about health care issues as they are gathered around their loved one’s hospital bed. And yes, it does happen.

Consult an attorney who specializes in elder law as soon as possible while your loved one can still articulate his or her wishes. Being proactive will allow you and your family to make the best possible decisions for everyone involved.

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