The vaccine – good news for everyone who has spent more time the last 9 months at home, cooking in their kitchen, hanging out in their backyard, and visiting with family and friends via a device. The vaccine also means there is less need for emergency planning, and more time for thoughtful planning. Estate planning post-Covid can also take into account the lessons we have learned and changes the world, and health care providers in particular, have made. Consider the following:
- HIPAA Authorizations: Covid limited the ability for loved ones to visit their family members in the hospital. As a result, the ability to call a hospital to inquire about a loved one’s medical condition became more important than ever. A HIPAA Authorization is a document that identifies who can receive medical information if you are ill. Having such authorization is more important for those who are not directly next of kin, as standard procedure is for hospitals to refuse to divulge information to those not authorized to receive it. Practically speaking, many hospitals have enforced the HIPAA Authorization by providing authorized individuals with a password. HIPAA Authorizations should be up to date with the names of those who can reach out to contact the hospital, and to include the right to any hospital patient password.
- Medical Power of Attorney: A medical power of attorney, also known as a healthcare power of attorney, is a legal document that enables you to name someone to act as your agent who can make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent has a duty to make decisions that you would have made if you had been capable of making them to the extent that the agent knows your wishes. My previous advice was power of attorney agents to be those who could be physically available to make medical decisions in the event of an emergency. Because of Covid, such physical presence at a hospital has been limited. As a result, doctors and hospitals have been working through medical decisions with agents via telephone, not in person. Doctors have also had witnesses to phone calls to ensure that the agent understands the decisions and that protocols have been followed. Medical Powers of Attorney should name agents who are capable of making decisions in the event of an emergency and understand the nature of the decisions being made; however, the agent does not need to be someone who can be physically present when making such decisions.
- Living Wills: Living Wills state that if you have a terminal illness or incurable condition, do you not wish to have ongoing life support. Instead, you wish to die naturally with only the administration of pain medication for comfort. Covid has made determining when a Living Will should be honored more difficult. On the one hand, some report that being on life support and a ventilator is very painful and should be limited and that they do not wish for such support under any circumstance. On the other hand, some report that Covid has also made hospitals stressed for patient beds and space, leading to the concern that insufficient efforts have been made to save some vulnerable adults and the Living Will has been implemented too soon. By default, hospitals are to assume all life saving measures are to be employed. If you wish for something different, share those wishes with your loved ones.
- Religious Beliefs: It is important to communicate with your agent and family about your spiritual beliefs and values. These beliefs may affect your choices about the extent or aggressiveness of medical care you would like to receive, whether you would like a rabbi or other religious leader to be part of your medical team, or if there are any religious customs or rites you would like to observe.
Even if you are currently the picture of good health, you may suddenly become too ill to make healthcare decisions for yourself or become unconscious after an accident, needing someone to stand in your shoes to make those decisions for you. Although it is not a pleasant topic to contemplate, it is an unfortunate reality that we may eventually need someone else to make decisions regarding our healthcare. If you already have a medical power of attorney in place, it is important to review it annually.
If there is nothing else that Covid has taught is, it is that you can never know when the next emergency will arise. You may be surprised at the peace of mind you can gain by knowing that you are prepared for whatever the future holds. If you’d like to discuss estate planning, please reach out to us!