Estate planning isn’t only focused on what happens to your assets or your remains after you die – it’s also about what could happen if you’re suddenly incapacitated due to an illness or injury.
It’s not at all uncommon for someone to need their medical power of attorney to step in and make health care decisions on their behalf at some point, even when it’s not an end-of-life issue. Choosing your health care power of attorney carefully is critical – and you can’t be sure of your choice until you talk over a few things. Here are some of the most important things to discuss:
1. Are you on the same page about end-of-life issues?
Not everybody has the same belief system. Some religions forbid any kind of treatment that might shorten someone’s life, even if the patient will clearly never recover, while others are silent or more flexible. Some people want every possible life-saving measure taken, no matter the situation, while others want only pain relief or “comfort care” past a certain point.
You absolutely need the person who holds your medical power of attorney to either be in agreement with you on these issues. It could be very difficult for your POA to tell the hospital to stop giving you food or fluids once it’s clear you’re in a permanent vegetative state, for example, if your POA’s faith considers that a sin.
2. Do you wish to be an organ donor or body donor?
It’s very common for hospital officials to approach a patient’s POA about this issue when it becomes clear that a patient is dying. There’s a tremendous need for organs that can be used for transplants, and even whole-body donation isn’t unusual.
There are no right or wrong answers to the question of organ donation, but some people have fairly strong beliefs about it. You need to make sure that your POA understands your feelings in this area.
These aren’t necessarily the only things you need to talk about, but it’s a start that can help you make sure that you’ve picked the right person. If you find out that you haven’t, it may be time to make some big updates to your estate plans.