In 2009, approximately 42 million people in the United Stated regularly provided care to an adult who required assistance with daily activities. Another 61.6 million provided care at some point during the year. As the nation’s population ages, more Americans will likely be required to assist aging or disabled parents and other loved ones. Unfortunately, caregivers are not always authorized to make medical decisions for the people they provide assistance to.
One of the easiest and most important steps an individual can take is to create an advance care directive. An advance care directive will generally include a durable power of attorney, a living will, and name a health care proxy. A durable power of attorney will designate an individual to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person. A living will provides instructions for care at the end of a person’s life and will normally specify whether artificial measures such as life support should be used. A health care proxy is similar to a power of attorney except it designates someone to make medical treatment decisions for a person who is no longer able to make such decisions or communicate with doctors.
Understandably, discussing an aging parent’s medical wishes is not always easy. By creating an advance care directive, an individual may be able to alleviate some of the decision-making burden often placed on family members such as children. Oftentimes, loved ones may disagree with one another regarding an individual’s care, or children may have a difficult time making tough medical decisions for a parent. An advance care directive can eliminate emotional obstacles and prevent a caregiver from being required to petition a court for decision-making authority through a guardianship or conservatorship.
Advance care directives are not just for the aging and disabled. Anyone can become incapacitated unexpectedly whether by accident, stroke, brain aneurism, or a variety of other causes. By failing to create a living will and a health care power of attorney, an individual who becomes incapacitated may be subject to health care decisions he or she would not have wanted. Because of this, it is a good idea to contact an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you with creating your advance care directive.