Many people assume that estate planning is confined to wills, trusts, and tax avoidance strategies as they relate to the passage of assets after one’s death. Did you know that estate planning also includes health care considerations that can be critical to ensuring a loved one’s well-being?

Too often, estate-related health care items are overlooked, whether they are ignored, poorly crafted, or non-existent. The consequences can be devastating, especially as surprise catastrophes like the COVID-19 crisis can quickly harm older adults and undermine their decision-making abilities. What would families do without the legal authority to act? Or, the time to make new arrangements?

Families that are unprepared for such scenarios may be at an extreme disadvantage. Accordingly, let us take the time to talk about four health care mistakes family members should avoid right now:

  1. Not talking to an elder loved one about their wishes. Make sure to have specific conversations about an older adult’s health care desires and put them in writing. Create records that can be referenced by other family members and agents acting legally on their behalf.
  1. Failing to properly execute a power of attorney. What good is a health care document if it fails to meet basic legal standards? Different states have different requirements regarding the execution and use of such documents, including health care surrogates, advance directives and living wills, and medical privacy releases. 
  1. Not including a financial durability feature. Failing to include certain powers in relevant health care documents is a common, and often frustrating, mistake. For example, not including a financial durability feature in a power of attorney could prevent an agent from paying medical bills and other expenses on behalf of a hospitalized senior relative.
  1. Not understanding how a living will works. A living will is not a last will and testament. Rather, it is a legal document that can tell others what an elder family member’s personal choices are concerning end-of-life medical care. A living will is also different from a health care surrogate in that the agent must abide by the instructions laid out in the living will document. 

Taking steps to ensure the safety of an elder loved one does not just mean crafting important health care documents. It means making sure they are up to date, that they align with the elder adults’ wishes, that they are legally permissible, and that they contain features that allow for maximum care at a moment’s notice. Do not wait until tragedy strikes. Contact our office to discuss establishing an estate plan that protects your future and that of your loved ones.