(PRWEB) June 23, 2014
Various protections are available to ensure wishes for health care are met when it is most necessary, yet few people realize now is the time to put these protections in place, says Barry Kozak, director of Elder Law Programs at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
The latest headlines of family disagreements about end-of-life care for Casey Kasem, the long-time host of “American Top 40,” can teach us all valuable lessons about life planning.
“Some of the hardest conversations to have are about care needed after a sudden illness, a debilitating accident or at the end of life,” said Kozak. “No one can predict the future, so now is the time to plan for what may lie ahead.”
Kozak says every adult should have an advanced health directive—a Durable Power of Attorney for Health—and people with chronic diseases should also have a Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment.
“These both protect adults in their decisions, but each protects at different stages,” Kozak said.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health (DPOA) contract specifically spells out options for sustaining life. It is one of the life planning legal documents that can be prepared now while you have the mental capacity to make legally binding decisions.
With a DPOA for Health, an agent—such as a family member or an attorney —is given authority to make certain health decisions if the signer becomes incapacitated. The power to make these decisions can only be made after a specified date or event, such as being diagnosed as lacking sufficient mental capacity.
“Unfortunately, unless the signator speaks with the agent and others about his or her exact wishes before decisions need to be made, then the agent will make the decisions on their behalf,” Kozak explained, “even if they are the exact opposite of what the person wanted.”
He warns that a signer’s failure to communicate wishes can lead to court actions and contentious adult guardianship hearings. A judge may strip away civil rights and name a guardian whom he believes is the best person to make all decisions over health and/or property.
“To ‘pull the plug’ is a profound decision and heart-wrenching for any family. However, proper advanced planning can minimize the risk of disputes at the very time the family needs to come together,” Kozak added.
In addition to the DPOA contracts, there are other advanced health care directives that can give any attending physician information on wishes for mental health treatments, the use of psychotropic medications or being admitted to a mental health facility for a limited time. The directive also can state whether the signer wants physicians and first responders to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation should your heart stop beating.
The newest directive is a Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) that gives a way to detail for a doctor exact procedures on whether to prolong life following certain tragic events and how different stages of particular chronic diseases should be treated as they progress into later stages.
“The POLST allows an adult to discuss care with doctors,” Kozak said, but stressed that follow-up conversations with an attorney will assure consistency between and among all of these advanced care directives and the DPOA for Health.
“Life planning tools that are properly executed early in life give the agent the information needed before accidents or diseases cause adults to lose the ability to communicate exact decisions. This also assists the attorney, attending physician and other professionals in following your individual wishes about living and dying,” he said.
Advanced planning documents also provide a good reason to have family discussions that can clear the air and give a fighting chance that wishes will be fulfilled. The forms are available online through state agencies.
“Consult properly trained attorneys to ensure the documents will actually work in practice, not just theory, when the emergency decision needs to be made in the hospital’s consultation room,” Kozak said.