How do we find out if my mother-in-law's sister has an advance directive, power of attorney, or living will in place?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 26, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother-in-law is the only living relative to her sister. Her sister has recently been diagnosed with demintia. Her sister has two adult children who are not involved. How do we find out if her sister has an Advance Directive or Power of Attorney or Living Will already in place. Her sister now needs a psych assessment and they are asking for a medical directive. Also do we have to have a separate power of attorney for her financial needs and a document for her medical needs?


Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

First, a bit about what's in a name: "Advance directives" is the umbrella term that covers powers of attorney for healthcare and living wills, although some are called Advance Directives or Directives to Physicians or something similar. Whatever the title, such documents enable a person to specify what kind of medical care they would want"”and to name someone, usually called an agent or proxy, to supervise those wishes.

If you and the other people currently involved are not familiar with the people to whom the sister may be close or who are likely candidates to have been named her agent or proxy for medical care, then your best bet may be to check with her primary care physician to see whether there is any such document in her medical file.

If this bit of sleuthing turns up no document, and the sister is still able to understand what the document means and who would be a good candidate for the position, then it might be prudent to have her complete and sign a document anew"”along with a separate power of attorney for finances if that seems necessary. Many people retain the legal ability to complete these documents even after a diagnosis of mental limitations. (For more information on this, see https://www.caring.com/questions/alzheimers-and-power-of-attorney.)

The documents specifying agents to care for medical decisions and for finances are two separate things, as you seemed to intuit. They often come into play at different times, require different skills to administer, and deal with very different concerns.

It should be fairly simple to find free forms the sister would need to complete these directions quickly. The medical form should be available from the patient representative at the nearest hospital. And you can copy the suggested wording for the state's power of attorney for finances by searching the Internet for the state name, "Power of attorney for finances" and "statute." Be careful to avoid websites that will charge for such forms.


Community Answers

Barbara kate repa answered...

First, a bit about what's in a name: "Advance directives" is the umbrella term that covers powers of attorney for healthcare and living wills, although some are called Advance Directives or Directives to Physicians or something similar. Whatever the title, such documents enable a person to specify what kind of medical care they would want"”and to name someone, usually called an agent or proxy, to supervise those wishes.

If you and the other people currently involved are not familiar with the people to whom the sister may be close or who are likely candidates to have been named her agent or proxy for medical care, then your best bet may be to check with her primary care physician to see whether there is any such document in her medical file.

If this bit of sleuthing turns up no document, and the sister is still able to understand what the document means and who would be a good candidate for the position, then it might be prudent to have her complete and sign a document anew"”along with a separate power of attorney for finances if that seems necessary. Many people retain the legal ability to complete these documents even after a diagnosis of mental limitations. (For more information on this, see https://www.caring.com/questions/alzheimers-and-power-of-attorney.)

The documents specifying agents to care for medical decisions and for finances are two separate things, as you seemed to intuit. They often come into play at different times, require different skills to administer, and deal with very different concerns.

It should be fairly simple to find free forms the sister would need to complete these directions quickly. The medical form should be available from the patient representative at the nearest hospital.

Powers of attorney for finances are a bit more difficult to secure. You can copy the suggested wording for the state's power of attorney for finances by searching the Internet for the state name, "Power of attorney for finances" and "statute." Be careful to avoid websites that will charge for such forms. You can also hire a lawyer for help with a a POA for finances, especially if there is a lot of money to be managed or complicated directions for doing so.