Decisions regarding your finances, where you will live and how you will be cared for are all part of planning for your long-term care needs. If you become disabled or unable to make these decisions, certain tools are available to insure that your wishes are carried out. In general, it is best to think and talk about your wishes before you become ill. Planning ahead is the best way to be assured that your wishes are carried out.
It is important to note that legal documents can only be signed by persons able to understand the information and decisions they are making. This makes it imperative to start planning begin early. If it is determined that a person does not have capacity to sign these documents, legal proceeding may be necessary to make financial and healthcare decisions.
Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA):a document, which gives one person (the agent) the authority to act on behalf of another (the grantor). Durable means that the power of attorney remains in effect, even if the grantor becomes incapacitated. This is one way to manage your affaires if you become unable to do so on your own. Your “agent” will have the authority to act on your behalf in financial matters. Recently, Florida began to recognize the 'springing' DPOA in which the authority does not 'spring' into affect until an event such as incapacity occurs. In either case, it is important to choose someone you trust to act as your agent and make sure that they have copies of all documents. .
Living Will: a document which gives written instructions regarding the medical care you wish (or do not wish) to receive if you are in a terminal or end stage condition. Since it is only used in very narrow circumstance, it is best used in conjunction with the Health Care Power of Attorney.
Health Care Power of Attorney: a document which allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you.
Healthcare Surrogate: someone you appoint to make healthcare decisions. Be sure this is someone who understands YOUR wishes and is willing to carry them out.
Any document that affects your medical care should be made available to family and medical professional involved in your care. Always put a copy of these documents in your medical record with your primary care physician and remember that hospitals do not maintain copies of your advance directives after you have left the facility. All of those named in the documents should also have copies. Remember, medical professionals involved in your care may not be able to obtain these important documents if they are located at attorney's offices or hidden in “safe places” in your home.
This is a legal procedure in which the court determines that a person is “incapacitated” and unable to make decisions for themselves. If granted, the guardianship takes away the rights of the person to make decisions for him or herself, and places certain safeguards in place to insure that those making decisions are acting in the incapacitated person's behalf. Guardianship can be limited to property (making financial decisions), or person (making living situation decisions) or can include all decision making. If the guardianship is ordered, the court monitors all actions taken. A yearly report to the court and annual accounting is required. The guardianship process can be started on an emergency basis if necessary. A family member can become a guardian, or private guardians are available. Private guardians generally charge hourly for their services.
Here is a partial list of Attorneys board certified in “Elder Law.” They are in no particular order. Additional listings can be found in the Yellow Pages. If you currently have a relationship with an attorney, s/he may be able to handle the legal aspects of long term care planning or refer you to an elder law specialist. You should call a few to see if an interview or consultation can be scheduled. Some attorneys may> schedule an initial consultation free of charge. Be sure to clarify charges before making the first appointment.