Tips for Approaching the Delicate Subject of Medical Directives and Powers of Attorney with Your Parents
Ahh, Thanksgiving. Time for turkey, pumpkin pie, family, conversations about memories and catching up on current happenings. A great time to relax and reconnect. And while everyone is gathered under one roof (and maybe feeling happy from a glass of wine), it’s also a great time to talk about things that you’ve been meaning to discuss, if only you could just find a few quiet moments. … You know, like do mom and dad have a power of attorney and medical directive in place? Have they thought about designating a guardian, in case they ever need one?
Well, this could be the right time. If you have aging parents (and aren’t we all aging?) these conversations can be tricky. You want to make sure your parents have all the right documents in place, in case they ever need someone to step in and help them out. But they are probably fine right now so you don’t want to offend them by insinuating that they aren’t capable currently. Cue Johnny Cash, because you’re about to walk the line. Here are some tips to make things go smoothly:
1. I was only sort of kidding about the wine. Bring the topic up gently, at a time when everyone is relaxed and you can talk privately. This discussion can’t happen in the middle of an argument or at a time when there is escalating tension in the room (over this topic or any other topic). Start by saying you were thinking of getting these documents done or updated for yourself. By the way mom or dad, do you have an estate plan?
2. Be prepared for “It’s none of your business.” And to some extent, they’re right, it’s not your business. But it could quickly become your business if your parents don’t have the right documents in place, and suddenly there is an unexpected health issue that prevents your parents from conducting their day to day affairs. I like to tell my clients, these documents are as much for your kids as they are for you—no worries, no confusion, no “who’s it.” Everything spelled out, exactly the way they want it.
3. Know the basics. Good planning includes having a Will for distribution of assets, a Power of Attorney to designate who is responsible for your affairs if you are incapacitated and a Medical Directive or Medical Power of Attorney, which specifically outlines your wishes regarding medical care and decisions.
There are different types of Powers of Attorney. You can give a limited power of attorney, which, as the name suggests, gives a person (called “the agent”) only limited authority to take certain actions. You can give a “springing” power of attorney which “springs” into action only when you are incapacitated, as attested to by a doctor. Or you can give a general durable power of attorney which is the broadest grant of authority to another person. The POA can be revised or revoked at any time, and the agent can be changed, too.
A Medical Power of Attorney is also called a Medical Directive or Living Will. While the person is capable, he or she will always be in charge of their own health care decisions. If a person becomes incapable, the Medical POA designates a specific person or persons to make health care decisions, and also, just as importantly, give that person the authority to look at the incapacitated person’s medical records. It is also an opportunity to spell out what types of medical care the author wants.
Both the POA and Medical POA will designate one or two people to be the primary agent, and also designate one or two people to be backup agents, in case something happens to the first choice.
With the right approach and some basic knowledge, you can help your parents, or anyone else in your family, be prepared for whatever the future brings. If everything goes according to plan, your future holds turkey hash, leftover pie, and peace of mind that your family is taken care of.