One of the scariest scenarios we face is the prospect of no longer being able to make our own decisions and to think for ourselves. Often this is a process of gradual decline, and either we, or those close to us, can see the changes and understand what is happening. If you have not done advanced planning, that’s a good time to get moving. There are some fairly straightforward documents that you can draft and execute which will allow those you love and trust to make important decisions.
1. Health Care Proxy: this document names the person who can make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make them yourself. In Massachusetts, only one person can be named at a time, but you can have successor agents in case the first person is not available. I recommend that everyone have a Health Care Proxy (including young adults so that doctors must listen to their parents, or to the person they have designated).
If you do not have a Health Care Proxy and there is a disagreement about your care, it is possible that a Guardian will have to be appointed by the probate court. This is a process that can be time consuming, complex, and expensive. In the end, the court decides who will make decisions about your care, not you.
2. Durable Power of Attorney: this document names a person who can sign documents on your behalf, and who can make financial and administrative decisions on your behalf. This can be effective now, or it can come into effect upon your incapacity.
Like a Health Care Proxy, if you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney, and become incompetent, a family member or caregiver will have to go to court to be named to represent you. This person is called a Conservator, and this process, like naming a Guardian, requires court involvement and much expense. It also means that the court makes the final decision about the person best suited to manage your affairs. Judges are wise and thoughtful, but they don’t know you or your family members the way that you do – don’t you think you’ll make a better decision?