No matter your age, at any time you may become mentally or physically incapacitated through an accident or sickness. Age, however, does play a role in incapacity, as does alcohol or drug abuse. If you or a family member becomes incapacitated, who would handle financial matters, answer questions about health, or conduct normal or everyday affairs?
One way to take care of a case of incapacity is to prepare for the possibility in advance. If you can designate one or more individuals to act in your behalf if you become incapacitated, you can be assured that they will follow your wishes. Otherwise, a court may appoint a guardian for you upon request of a friend or relative. But, what type of documents do you need to protect your wishes if you become incapacitated?
The following list may help you wade through the list of common incapacity documents. In all cases, you might want to talk with an attorney to rest assured that you wishes will be followed even if you move across state lines or to another country.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) or Health-Care Proxy: A durable power of attorney for health care (known as a health-care proxy in some states) allows you to appoint a representative to make medical decisions for you. You decide how much power your representative will have. This option is flexible, as it allows your representative to act on your behalf and make medical decisions based upon current circumstances. But, it’s not practical in an emergency, as your representative may not be available to act in your behalf. And, this representation may not be permitted in some states.
- Living Will: A living will allows you to approve or decline certain types of medical care, even if you die as a result of your choice. However, in most states, living wills take effect only under certain circumstances, such as terminal injury or illness. Generally, one can be used only to decline
medical treatment that “serves only to postpone the moment of death.” In states that do not allow living wills, you may have one to serve as an expression of your wishes. A living will also allows your health-care proxy to carry out your wishes when possible.
- DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order: A ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order (DNR) is a doctor’s order that tells all other medical personnel not to perform CPR if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of DNRs. One is effective only while you are hospitalized. The other is used while you are outside the hospital. In some states, the DNR is effective during an emergency. Use an ID bracelet, MedicAlert necklace or wallet cards so emergency personnel will know your wishes. In some states, DNR orders are allowed only for hospitalized patients, or the DNR is used to decline CPR in case of cardiac or respiratory arrest.
- Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA): If you don’t prepare someone to look after your financial affairs when you can’t, your property may be wasted, abused, or lost. A durable power of attorney (DPOA) allows you to authorize someone else to act on your behalf at very little cost and to avoid court intervention should you become incapacitated. There are two types of DPOAs: you can appoint a standby DPOA, a person who is effective immediately, and a “springing” DPOA, or a person or individuals who cannot take over your affairs until you have become incapacitated. A DPOA
should be fairly simple and inexpensive tool to implement, and it ends at your death. A springing DPOA is not permitted in some states, so you’ll want to check with an attorney.