Feature article: Wealth and Wills
Too young for a Durable Power of Attorney?
Cynthia E. Crawford, Ph.D., Family Financial Education Specialist; Edited by Rob Weagley, Ph.D., Department Chair, Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri Extension
After a sudden onset of symptoms, my niece’s college roommate Patti (not her real name) was diagnosed with an aggressive, life-threatening illness. She was transferred to a hospital in a larger city and she required very specific, swift treatment. Every hour counted.
Unfortunately, Patti’s medical records weren’t transferred with her and the hospital needed the original records (faxed records were not acceptable). This became a problem when the first hospital would not release the medical records to anyone, not even the patient’s mother. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy standards prevented the hospital from releasing the medical records to anyone but Patti since she is a legal adult without any forms in place allowing others to make healthcare decisions/actions on her behalf.
The lesson to be learned from this family’s nightmarish ordeal is that anyone age 18 or older needs to execute two legal documents — a durable power of attorney for health care and an advanced directive for health care choices. Don’t wait until you are old. Don’t wait until there is a need for them. Then, it will be too late.
An advanced directive for health care choices allows you to express in writing what your health care wishes are, including what treatments you do or do not want, if you become physically or mentally unable to communicate your desires for medical care.
A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint another person to make health care decisions for you if you cannot or have not specified your wishes in your advanced directive for health care choices. The person you designate with the power of attorney on your behalf should be someone who understands your goals and values, someone you can trust to carry out your wishes. You also want to ensure that the document allows the person to request, receive and review your medical and hospital records.
While I would never suggest to a person how to fill out these forms because these are very personal decisions, I urge every adult to carefully fill out both forms and then sign and have them notarized. You can use a family lawyer to draft these documents for you, however, you can get these documents in place with little out-of-pocket cost.
I encourage you to seek the advice and counsel of an attorney if you feel uncomfortable doing this without one — peace of mind is worth a couple of hundred dollars. If these forms become necessary to use with respect to your care, the expense and time spent is relatively meaningless compared to your health.
Here are two sources for more information and legal forms:
- Life Choices publication from the Missouri Attorney General's office
- The Center for Practical Bioethics website
Last update: Wednesday, September 14, 2016