Excerpt from Who Moved my Teeth?
WHAT SHOULD I HAVE ALREADY DONE?
Here’s a list of things you should do if you haven’t done them already, either for your loved one that you are/or will be a caregiver for quite soon…OR FOR YOURSELF!
- GET A DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY….ACTUALLY GET TWO OR THREE!
What is a Power of Attorney? This is a critical document that allows someone to take care of your healthcare and business affairs. And everyone in the healthcare and caregiving business will ask you if you have a POA (Power of Attorney).
A Power of Attorney document comes in a few flavors. There are generally two types of POAs and they need to be Durable, kind of like a good pair of Levi Jeans. Durable means that no matter what happens to you, as a living person, the POA stays in effect. That’s a good thing because what would be the whole point of a POA if it doesn’t work when you can’t. Like my Nana’s orthopedic shoes, she was never without them because she needed them for her health. And, during your life, you should never be without your Durable POAs.
- Durable Health Care Power of Attorney
This document allows a person to make all major and minor healthcare decisions for their loved one. The person who signs the Power of Attorney is giving the power to you or someone else to act as if you are the signer. So, if your mom signs a Durable POA, and gives the power to you, she has made you her agent. You now have the power to act as if you are your mom in all health care situations. If you sign a POA and make your spouse your ‘Agent,’ your spouse now has the power to act as if he is you in all health care decisions concerning you.
This does not prevent Mom from continuing to make her own decisions about her health care. It does allow the agent, the POA, to make decisions, if necessary. Or, at the very least, as the POA you now have the authority to talk to everyone about your mom’s health care.
Does this replace that damned HIPAA form? Yes and yes. There is nothing wrong with you also having your loved one sign a HIPAA form that gives you authority to discuss medical issues, but the Durable Healthcare POA is the best and most powerful document you can have. And it lasts forever, until the person who signed it cancels it in writing. That’s why you need 2 or 3 originals. I always gave my clients 3 originals. In case one gets lost, is never returned, or becomes lining for the cat litter box somehow.
An original Durable POA means it has all original signatures and it is signed and witnessed by a Notary Public. So, if you have three original Durable POAs, you will have to sign in all important places 3 times and the Notary will sign each one separately as well.
- Durable Financial Power of Attorney
This document is different from a Health Care Power of Attorney. The person who signs this type of Durable Power of Attorney is giving the power to you or someone else to act as if you are that person in all financial situations. So if your mom gives you a Durable Financial POA, you now have the power to act as if you are your mom in all financial situations. This too, is a very powerful document. Since the agent is in the shoes of the person who assigned the power. The agent can buy, sell, transfer, pay, not pay and clean out every penny and asset there is. It sounds bad and ominous. And there is no doubt that checks and balances are a good thing when you give a Durable Financial POA to someone. But never underestimate the NEED for this document.
- Between Spouses
Unless you have a real problem with your spouse, and I’m pretty sure that’s a Dr. Phil book, or if your spouse is already suffering from mental incapacity or incapable of making financial decisions, you and your spouse under normal circumstances should give each other Durable Healthcare and Durable Financial POAs.
This is a protection in case anything unplanned would happen to either of you. You would already have these documents in place to handle any emergency. I’m talking to you. The healthy baby boomer who is reading this, or the Gen-Xer who suddenly realizes their mom and dad are getting older. Hey! We are all getting older! If you are over 18 years old, you should consider Durable POAs for yourself. When my children went to college, I had them sign Durable POAs. As adults living hours away from home, I did not want any nonsense from a hospital or a college administration saying they wouldn’t talk to me about my child’s condition, be it a health or financial condition.
Fast forward to your own life now. You are 30-something or 40-something. You have kids, a nice house, a couple of cars. You have an accident. You are disabled. You’re in a coma. Your husband can’t sell the house, car, or shares in Microsoft, because they belong to you. The hospital wants to put a shunt in your brain to stop the bleeding but no one has the authority to say “yay” or “nay.” That’s why everyone needs Durable POAs at every stage of their adult life. Not when you’re 85 years old and you think, “hey, something might happen to me.”
DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW, DO IT NOW.
No one even needs to know you have these documents. You can go to your local wonderful attorney, get the paperwork done, put it in your fireproof box in the basement, and when someone needs to find your important papers….Voila!! There it is. Just make sure someone knows you have important papers and where they are located.
- A Word on Durable POAs
Besides being the most important document you may not have yet and need to get, POA’s can also be like a Chinese menu. Any lawyer worth her salt will take you through a process where you need to decide exactly how much power you want to bestow. In Pennsylvania, for example, where I reside, there are very strict rules about things like how much money can the POA give as a gift and to whom. So please, find a lawyer. Ask your friends, neighbors, someone you know who has dealt with issues like this. Research lawyers, but find one, and get your affairs in order. It’s that important, because if you need this and you don’t have it, this is what happens next…………….
- Whom Do I Choose to be my POA?
This question is complicated. Usually, if you are healthy and happy as a couple, you would choose each other as your primary POA. You should always have an alternate POA in case something happens to both of you simultaneously.
If your spouse is unable to be your POA, or you don’t have a spouse, you need to choose a person you can trust completely. This person will have power over your money and your health. You need to choose wisely.
Normally, it would be best to choose a daughter or son or other relative who lives close by. Making these decisions, especially with hospitals and doctors usually needs a person who is available to go to those places or meet with those healthcare professionals.
When deciding who to choose as your POA ask yourself some questions:
- Do I trust this person completely with my money and/or my health?
- Will they be available to make decisions at a moment’s notice?
- Are they capable of making these decisions?
- Does this person know how to find and ask for help for me?
- Do I want to put all the financial or health care power with one person, or do I want to give joint or several powers?
Caution: It can be challenging to have joint POAs because if they disagree, there is no one to ‘break the tie.’ You can have ‘either or’ POA’s. So that if you name your son and daughter as joint POA’s, your son and daughter can make decisions jointly or by themselves (severally). Note that they need to be able to work together for the several powers as they can make decisions without the other’s input. If you don’t see that happening, then choose one decider and an alternate.
Author of Showering With Nana: Confessions of a Serial Caregiver, Cathy Sikorski has been a significant caregiver for the last 25 years for seven different family members and friends. A published humorist, Sikorski is also a practicing attorney who limits her practice to Elder Law issues. Her combined legal and humor expertise has made her a sought-after speaker where she tackles the Comedy of Caregiving and the legal issues that affect those who will one day be or need a caregiver (which is everyone). Sikorski is a frequent guest on radio programs and podcasts where she talks about the importance of using humor in caregiving. With more than 30 years of law behind her, she provides critical legal information for our aging population. Her latest endeavor is her humorous memoir Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial (killer) Caregiver (HumorOutcasts Press 2015). Sikorski has participated in memoir writing classes for two years at the prestigious Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She has also participated in the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference where she won a Humor Prize in 2014. Sikorski blogs for The Huffington Post and is a contributing author for HumorOutcasts.com and she can been seen on the West Chester Story Slam YouTube channel. Known as a “Thought Leader,” her work can be found in the HappinessRecipe Anthology: The Best of Year One, published 2014. Sikorski maintains an active blog “You just have to Laugh…where Caregiving is Comedy…” at www.cathysikorski.com where she continues to post absurd yet true stories that continue today.Contact Cathy Sikorski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @cathy_sikorski.
Paul De Lancey