If you fell ill, suffered an injury, or were otherwise incapacitated, who would make decisions for you? Do you know? If you’re like most people, you might just assume that your spouse or other loved ones would step in and issue instructions for your care – essentially acting on your behalf. There’s one problem with that assumption, though: that’s not how these things work. The reality is that your family would have no authority to make any decisions for you, unless and until they acquired that power by getting a court to grant guardianship over your affairs – a process that can be time-consuming and costly. That’s why we all need healthcare directives in place before tragedy strikes.
None of us are invulnerable, and accidents and illness can strike without warning. Even the most careful person in the world can suffer incapacitation at any time, and in a variety of ways. In the not-so-distance past, such situations would leave patients at the mercy of forces beyond their control, without any say in how they were treated or even if they received treatment at all. Fortunately, times have changed and the law now provides each of us with an effective way to ensure that our wishes are respected when the worst occurs.
Without the right documents, however, those protections are worthless. If you fail to ensure that you have the right healthcare directives in place, no one will ever know whether you want treatment in certain situations. No one will be able to divine whether you prefer a specific type of care. A court will appoint a guardian to handle your affairs, and it is that person who will then direct medical staff to care for you in the manner that he or she thinks is in your best interest.
Guardianship might not seem like a bad thing until you consider all the ramifications. Once your case ends up being taken up by a court, the expenses that are incurred during the guardianship process are all paid by your estate. There are court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian expenses – and you pay for all of it. So, you not only end up having a guardian you never selected, but you get to pay for the privilege as well. Obviously, that’s far from an ideal situation. Thankfully, you can avoid it with a little prior planning on your part.
What are Healthcare Directives?
In Michigan, there are two basic types of directives that every resident should have. To ensure that yours are properly crafted and designed to accomplish your goals, it is advisable to have them reviewed by a competent estate and incapacity planning attorney in the area.
The first thing you need is a document that designates a specific person to carry out your health care wishes if you are incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. In many places in the country, this document is referred to as a power of attorney, and acts much like the financial power of attorney form. It designates someone as your official agent-in-fact, and that person essentially acts in your name on matters related to your care. The Michigan form for this power of attorney is called the Patient Advocate Designation.
The second thing that you need is a document that expresses your wishes on matters related to health care. In Michigan, as in many other places across the United States, this document is known as a living will. The living will can sometimes be confused with the Last Will and Testament, but they are two very different types of documents. For while the Last Will and Testament expresses your last wishes for what happens after you die, the living will can provide you an opportunity to express your desires about the type of treatment that you want to receive, and which treatments you want to reject while you are still alive.
Your Patient Advocate
When you create your advance directive documents, the person you name to serve as your healthcare agent is known as your patient advocate. Michigan has few requirements with respect to who you can name to serve in that capacity, but he or she must be at least 18 years of age. Most people select those closest to them to fulfill the role – usually a spouse, adult child, or a very close friend. The most important thing to remember is that you should select someone that you trust and can rely on to fulfill your wishes.
It is also wise to consider choosing someone with a stern backbone, since incapacity often leads to family strife as different family members sometimes have different views about what your wishes might truly be. Your patient advocate must have the strength of purpose required to resist that type of conflict and stand fast to the instructions you’ve provided.
Is an Attorney Necessary?
You may not need professional legal assistance to craft these healthcare directives, but it is wise to at least have them reviewed by an estate planning and incapacity attorney to ensure that they meet your needs. Remember, healthcare directives are no substitute for an effective and comprehensive estate plan. Instead, they are but one important component of a broader plan designed to protect your assets, secure your personal interests, and protect the legacy that you hand down to your loved ones when your life eventually comes to an end.
At Biddinger, Bitzer & Estelle, PLLC, our incapacity planning experts can help you to ensure that you have the healthcare directives you need to protect yourself and your interests when you can no longer help yourself. We can create the patient advocate designation and living will you require, or help review your existing documents to make sure that they accomplish your goals. We’ll also work with you to ensure that you have the other important end-of-life and legacy strategies you need to safeguard your assets, provide for your loved ones, and give you the peace of mind you deserve. To learn more about how we can help you protect your interests, contact us at our website or call us today at (989) 872-5601.