Covid-19 has reinforced the idea of preparedness. All of us saw how consumer staples like toilet paper, paper towels and dishwasher detergent were commoditized and hoarded. Household supplies are only one part of the equation. This pandemic brought illness and uncertainty. Patients of all ages faced unanticipated health care hurdles. In this context, being prepared meant having four fundamental legal documents: Health Care Proxy, Living Will or MOLST, Power of Attorney and a Testamentary Document (Will /Trust).
An incapacitating illness which impacts a person’s ability to make decisions has far-ranging consequences. Without the right documentation in place, hospitals, banks, insurance companies and utilities will limit communications and refuse to act on requests on behalf of the incapacitated person. Adult children who have handled their parents’ affairs and organized phone authorizations already know how all of this works. Naming a Health Care Proxy and Agent under a Power of Attorney allows a loved one or trusted person to obtain necessary information and make necessary decisions.
A Health Care Proxy form allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. You can choose a primary health care proxy and alternate proxies. New York law does have a statutory order of priority for health care decisionmakers for those people who lack Health Care Proxies. However, the New York priority order may not reflect your choice of Proxy, so executing the Proxy form is very important. The Health Care Proxy form has the proxy’s name, address and phone number which makes it easier for hospitals to communicate with the right parties. During Covid-19, where in-person meetings were abolished these lines of communication were essential. How important is a Health Care Proxy? Surgeries, courses of treatment, medication, and discharge planning are all within the purview of the Proxy’s decision-making powers.
Living Wills are the set of instructions that govern a person’s quality of life if they lose bodily function. These instructions act as a guidepost for directing continuing care. A Living Will takes the burden off of the Proxy’s shoulders. The confusion of Covid-19 and the poor quality of communications increased the value of completed documentation with clearly defined terms. End of life decisions which are covered in Living Wills are more thoroughly explained in MOLST forms. MOLST forms are bright pink and signed in the presence of a physician. Having one or both of these forms in place will minimize issues when death is expected.
Beyond the urgency of the medical crisis lies the financial obligations and estate planning related to an ill person. Powers of Attorney provide for a financial agent on behalf of the creator of the form to gather statements, collect proceeds, pay bills, transfer assets, create Trusts and many other duties. This document is invaluable when there is no other simplified way to handle ordinary business or perform emergency Medicaid Planning. A Covid-19 patient’s financial life should not be adversely impacted. Creating a Power of Attorney with a Statutory Gift Rider (the rider controls large transfers of funds, and estate planning) will safeguard finances.
The speed at which Covid-19 spread and its devastating effects caught the majority of New Yorkers off guard. Those who were stricken and lacked an estate plan left their family in an unenviable position. For families with simple assets and no strife, a Will is sufficient to direct assets to their preferred destination. Families with complex holdings, real property and interesting dynamics should consider Trusts to manage and direct assets while avoiding the procedural difficulties associated with Probate.
To find out more information on how to prepare for health care emergencies contact the professionals at Sloan and Feller.