If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance that you have no incapacity plan in place. That’s no real surprise, of course, since most of us have never gotten around to creating an estate plan of any kind. Chances are that you may have never even given much thought to what might happen to you and your family in the event that you lost the ability to make decisions for yourself – and why would you? How many of us really sit around imagining ourselves left in a state of incapacitation, unable to make even the most basic decisions about our own well-being? Sadly, however, that is something that you absolutely must ponder to protect your assets and interests against unforeseen disaster. You simply cannot neglect incapacity planning when you’re developing your estate planning strategy.
Previous generations seldom had to worry about such concerns, since most of today’s life-sustaining technologies and treatments simply didn’t exist. As medical science has advanced, life can now be sustained even after illnesses and injuries that would have been fatal many decades ago. Often times, though, patients who are sustained in this manner are left without the capacity to manage their own financial and health care affairs. That’s where planning ahead can make a tremendous difference in your ability to safeguard your interests.
The Durable Power of Financial Attorney
If you are left incapacitated without a plan in place, your family will have to seek guardianship through the court. That can take time and cost money. Meanwhile, important financial decisions and tasks may go unaddressed. That can be particularly troubling if you’re your family’s primary breadwinner, as it can leave your loved ones without access to financial resources they need to pay bills and purchase food and other necessities.
You can avoid that with a durable financial power of attorney that designates a trustworthy agent to manage your financial affairs for you during any period of incapacity. With this power, you can provide that person with specific authority to handle a variety of finance-related tasks – effectively acting on your behalf as if he were you. Thus, your agent could do everything from cashing your paycheck to investing your money or handling real estate transactions. It all depends on the level of authority you grant in your POA.
Your Michigan Advance Directives
In the state of Michigan, Advance Directives come in two varieties: The Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, and the Do Not Resuscitate Declaration (DNR). The former is used in settings that include inpatient and outpatient care, while the latter is used in settings outside of the hospital. Both provide an important way for patients to outline the type of care and treatment they want to receive in the event of incapacitating injuries and illnesses.
Your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPOA-HC) is similar to a Durable Financial POA, in that it designates a trusted person to serve as your agent – or Patient Advocate – and empowers that agent to make health care decisions for you as though you were making them yourself. That enables that agent to make decisions that you can no longer make on your own while incapacitated, including choices about the type and level of care that you receive.
That DPOA-HC is often accompanied by a living will. While Michigan does not officially recognize living wills as binding legal instruments, they can still be useful tools when you want to reinforce the directions you provide for your agent within the language of your medical power of attorney. That way, your advocate has even clearer instructions about the types of treatment choices you would make for yourself were you capable of doing so. Living wills can also, of course, provide important information about your wishes when it comes to the removal of life-sustaining treatment when you don’t wish to be kept alive in that manner, as well as organ donor choices.
Your DNR Declaration simply declares that you do not wish to be resuscitated in the event that you stop breathing or if your heart stops beating. When you have one of these declarations in place, you are allowed to wear a bracelet that has instructions for emergency medical personnel to inform them that you do not want to be resuscitated. It is important to note that the DNR can be used by any adult, and is not simply for those who suffer from terminal conditions.
Changing Your Directives
For some people, there can be a great deal of stress involved in creating documents like these. We are, after all, talking about serious health care concerns and – in some cases – matters of life and death. Those concerns should spark serious thought and planning, and decisions of this nature should never be taken lightly. With that said, however, it is important to remember that none of these documents are beyond your ability to change prior to incapacitation.
In other words, if you choose a personal agent to represent your interests in financial and health matters and define certain areas of authority, those decisions only become unchangeable once you lose the capacity to make decisions. As long as you are of sound mind, you can alter any aspect of the directives, nullify them entirely, select other representatives, and make any other changes you deem to be in your best interests.
Get the Help You Need
At Biddinger, Bitzer & Estelle, PLLC, we understand that decisions about matters such as incapacitation can be stressful and even traumatic. Obviously, no one enjoys contemplating the loss of mental and physical capacity, or the need to have someone else act in your stead. At the same time, however, the consequences of neglecting these important matters can be dire for your own wellbeing and the welfare of your loved ones. Contact us at our website or call us today at (989) 872-5601 to discover how our experienced and knowledgeable estate planning experts can help you to ensure that your estate plan includes the incapacity planning you need to enjoy the peace of mind you deserve.