Tips for Seniors

Don’t Be Like Susan


My friend Susan is a lively, fun, independent, and smart as a whip 70-year old with multiple sclerosis. It’s managed well unless something major affects her health.  Three times she has been in the hospital in life-threatening situations without the legal documents necessary for her to express her wishes when she is unable to verbalize them. She survived each time with a little anger because – are you ready for this?  No-one could read her mind, so not every choice was what she wanted.  Still, she refuses to execute the documents that will protect her wishes if, or when it happens again! The reason is misplaced fear.

Fear not!  These legal documents can all be revoked, or altered if you change your mind, letting you maintain more control. Temporary incapacitating events can happen. There will be an end to each of our lives. Then our loved ones will likely be emotional.  There can be arguments and misunderstandings. They may not remember conversations from the past.

These three documents are essential for everyone, not just seniors.

HIPAA Authorization Form, (AKA The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) sets strict legal standards for keeping health information and records private. Without it, it is illegal for medical professionals to share any details about your health without your written consent.  You have probably signed one in every doctor’s office for years.  Mine lists my out-of-state sibling for the big decisions and a local friend for convenience.  It’s your choice.

Medical Power of Attorney, AKA a health care proxy document, is a legal document that enables you to appoint a trusted relative or friend to handle specific healthcare decisions for you.

HIPAA authorization only gives access to information. A medical POA gives both permission and authority for your agent to make medical decisions for you if you are unable.   It must be completed when you are mentally competent to grant that authority.  You must appoint someone you trust, and who understands your instructions in your Advance Health Care Directive.

Advance Health Care Directive, AKA a living will is the place for you to record your wishes for end-of-life care before a medical crisis occurs. Your loved ones won’t have to guess which medical decisions you would make if you were able. You can include instructions for the person appointed in your medical POA to follow when making end-of-life care decisions. You can be very specific about what you do or do not want to happen. Be sure to include whether you want intubation if you stop breathing or a feeding tube inserted.  A Do Not Resuscitate Order involves your doctor’s input.  Important: This living will can express your wishes, but doesn’t give your delegate the right to just “pull the plug!” You need a doctor for that.

So, don’t be like Susan.  Grab some peace of mind. Know that a future illness will not be made more difficult because you procrastinated. Talk to your family, find a notary and get it done! You’ll be surprised how quick it is.

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