A Checklist of Essential Legal Documents for Aging Parents: What You Need to Know Before It's Too Late
Elder law is a distinct specialty area of the law. Have end-of-life documents drawn by a professional elder law attorney to ensure that your wishes are followed, and have legal documents checked to be certain they are adequate for the laws in your parent's state. Following are descriptions of essential legal documents that your parent should have. If these are not in place, discuss the need for these with your mom or dad as soon as possible.
Will for Disposal of Property After Death
Guardian for Your Parent's Affairs
This document names the person you wish to manage your affairs in the event that you lose mental capacity. It should include a clause clarifying the conditions under which this provision activates.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document names an agent to make financial transactions for you while you are unavailable or ill. Check to be sure that it will be accepted at the financial institutions you use; many will not accept a non-specific document. If you are dissatisfied with the person you have named as your agent, you can cancel it. Do not lock this in a safety box as it must be available in a crisis.
Medical POA/Power of Attorney for Health Care
This document names at least one agent to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you cannot make decisions or cannot communicate decisions on your own. It is prudent to name more than one agent, in case the first cannot be reached in an emergency. Do not lock this up as it must be available in a crisis. Copies are valid; each agent should have one.
Check the wording. If it reads, "This medical power of attorney takes effect if I become unable to make my own health care decisions...," then it gives the stated agent no authority or legal access to your medical information while you are able to make decisions
Directive to Physicians/Living Will
A living will is a type of advance directive document states your wishes about medical care in the event that you develop a terminal or irreversible condition and can no longer make your own medical decisions. This becomes effective when the attending physician certifies in writing that you are in a terminal or irreversible condition. Copies are legal; make plenty so that it is available when it is needed.
Consent for Release of Information
This is a form patients are asked to sign in every doctor's office, which authorizes the release of medical information to insurance companies, family members, or anyone else you choose. Signing this form will authorize release of information to anyone you designate, and should be included in medical chart. It will not follow you to the ER or into the hospital. For that, you need a blank, generic consent that gives permission to those you wish to have medical information.
Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order (OOHDNR)
This document allows you to state that you do not want to be resuscitated if you stop breathing or your heart stops beating, and declare that certain resuscitative measures will not be used on you. Those resuscitative measures specifically listed in the OOH DNR legislation are cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), advanced airway management, defibrillation, artificial ventilations, and transcutaneous cardiac pacing. Without this document, calling 911 will always result in resuscitative attempts.