Our Trusts, Estates and Elder Law Group is sensitive and aware of the needs of our clients during difficult times. We plan for unforeseen and expected disabilities by preparing living wills, health care proxies and powers of attorney. By executing these documents while you are competent, you choose who you want to act for you rather than having a judge appointing someone. You also avoid the delay and high cost of obtaining a court appointed guardian.
A living will is a document that states what medical treatment you do and don’t want, focusing primarily on issues regarding life sustaining treatment. New York State does not have specific legislation on living wills, as most other states do, but they are followed in New York as well as in most other states. Living wills also offer invaluable guidance to your health care agent. Preparation of a living will facilitates a conversation about what your wishes are and may shield children from having to make life or death decisions for you on a hunch.
A health care proxy appoints someone as your agent to make medical decisions when you are incapacitated and unable to make them yourself. These range from simple medical decisions up to life ending instructions if someone is in a “persistent vegetative state”. The health care proxy usually does not have specific instructions but rather just states that the agent is aware of your wishes. It is important to discuss with your agent what your wishes are regarding artificial hydration and nutrition so they can follow them when directing medical professionals.
A power of attorney is a very important, powerful document. It allows you to name one or more people to handle all of your personal affairs, from important financial matters to situations concerning where you live and family relations. This becomes extremely important if you become incapacitated and are unable to handle these matters. Many people assume that a spouse has the authority to handle these matters by virtue of being married but that is not the case. Without a comprehensive power of attorney in place, a guardianship proceeding will need to be commenced in court and there is no guaranty that the court will appoint the person you would want. Add in the cost of the proceeding and the time delay and it is easy to see how important a power of attorney can be.