Over the last month or so I have been helping a close family member adjust to life in an assisted living arrangement. This has become necessary after a long battle against kidney disease and related complications, all exacerbated by significant short term memory loss. She had surgery yesterday to address ongoing medical challenges and in her diminished capacity, she had to rely entirely on my wife and I to help her make decisions and to communicate with medical professionals. Thankfully, she had granted each of us the ability to make medical decisions through a properly executed Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. As we progressed through the day, I found myself thinking about the importance of the DPOA for Healthcare and what a nightmare it must be for the families of those who have not addressed this and other estate planning issues ahead of time.
During the days leading up to the surgery, the time and place were both rescheduled several times. While traveling Up North four days before the surgery, I found out that all of the pre-surgical preparation had not been completed, nor was I made aware of it. Unfortunately, it had been discussed with the patient, who was not able to follow through on the requirements.
Throughout the day of the surgery, it was delayed several times. These delays resulted in many conversations with doctors, nurses, aides, social workers and others; which all had to be handled by me and my wife. After the surgery, the medical professionals needed assistance that the patient simply could not provide, which again became a part of our role as the holders of the DPOA for Healthcare. We would not have been able to assist with many of these items if we did not have the proper documentation authorizing us to do so. Our assistance continues during recovery as we work with skilled nursing care and others to ensure a solid recovery.
My purpose in putting this experience in writing is not to make you feel sorry for us, but rather to remind everyone of the importance of developing a plan for your medical and financial affairs before it is too late. Had our family member not done so, this past week would have been even more challenging than it was and I have no doubt that the outcome would have been much worse. Please keep in mind that this type of planning applies to every adult. My eighteen year old son is heading off to college this fall and without having the proper documentation in place, we will not be able to communicate with healthcare professionals should he get sick or injured. For anyone who has been the parent of a college freshman, you know how this would turn out! And what about you? Does your family, or someone else you trust, know your wishes and have they been given the power to make choices if you are unable?
I urge you to consider your circumstances and make sure you have adequately planned for the day when you cannot make your own decisions. When that day arrives, you will need someone you trust to make medical decisions and financial decisions. Addressing it in advance will allow you to choose who is in control and save significant frustration for your family and caregivers. If you need help getting started, please give us a call and we can steer you in the right direction.