On Christmas Day my 75-year-old father was not well enough to join the family activities in his Nebraska home. The next day he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia; my siblings and I spent the better part of the next two months fighting to give him a chance at survival.
My dad has a unique medical history. The pneumonia exacerbated his ongoing issues and complicated treatment. My siblings and I were shocked when we had to explain Dad’s situation to each person caring for him. There seemed to be no coordination among the different specialists and the hospital staff. So, we became the coordination.
We made sure that a family member was present at any time a doctor may arrive and each ‘debriefed’ the one who followed. Amid this arduous process, we learned important lessons that I’m sharing with my clients. Specifically, in the frantic world of medicine, you need an advocate.
Basic financial planning suggests anyone with assets and/or dependents needs a will and Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial and Healthcare, which authorize a representative to make decisions on your behalf in legal matters. Yet most people delay or avoid this due to the serious nature of the decisions.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Write down your wishes as specifically as possible to avoid placing anxiety or blame on the person(s) you trust to act on your behalf.
- Discuss your decisions with other family members.
- Review your direction regularly to make sure it reflects your current wishes.
- Have a thorough discussion with an attorney about what Powers of Attorney documents can and cannot do. For example, most people are surprised to learn that powers of attorney expire upon the grantor’s death.
- Don’t forget the HIPAA Authorization and Waiver Form. Without it, your representatives may not be able to get the health information they need to make your medical decisions. This is also an important document for parents of dependent children over the age of 18.
Be sure you give careful thought about the person(s) you choose to act on your behalf. Most people do this when considering financial decisions, but neglect to consider it for the healthcare role. It is crucial that the person(s) you choose not only knows your wishes about what you do and don’t want done, but also is strong enough to make the decision in the face of conflicting family input.
My experience has also taught me it is helpful to do more. I cannot stress enough the importance of medical advocacy.
Along the way to achieving proper care for my father, my siblings, husband and I were accused of being stubborn and/or in denial. The first is definitely true but the second is far from it. We are all aware that Dad’s complex medical history means future challenges are likely and we will probably need to hire some home assistance – because he is home.
Regardless of any difficulties to come, for now my family is thankful that good communication allowed us to act in Dad’s best interest and keep our relationships intact. I hope you’ll begin these conversations with your loved ones so it will do the same for you.