The very day my dad was set to move into a charming little rental house, he fell in my bathroom and broke his hip. As the paramedics were arriving, I asked my teenage son to search online and print out a healthcare power of attorney form.
Of course, getting this form signed had been on my to-do list. The current form listed his ex-wife who lived in a different state.
We found one, printed it, and asked the paramedics to be the two witnesses required. (Apparently, they are not allowed to do that.) At the hospital, we ended up asking my dad’s roommate and his wife to sign as the witnesses. Two complete strangers!
I am part of the sandwich generation. I work and have children and young adults I’m raising. I am an educated professional, and yet I didn’t know where to look for this form. Unfortunately, this form was necessary to use for my father many times in the next year.
Is this the right form?
It can also be called a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, Healthcare Proxy or Living Will. Even though the titles for the document vary, advance directives give directions and responsibility to make healthcare decisions if someone becomes unable to do so. An advance directive gives an older adult a voice in their health care should they become too sick to make their wishes known, stating what kind of care they do or don’t want. This can make it much easier for family members to make tough health care decisions for them.
You may be in one of these two situations…
- The older adult is independent, but you are the one who would step in should there be an emergency
- You are already in a caregiving role for an older adult
- For those with independent older adults:
Here’s your assignment: Find out where the power of attorney is and what it says. However, you don’t want to send a message of “you aren’t in your right mind” or “you haven’t prepared well” or even “I’m taking over.”
Try a strategic approach to this question, like the following:
“I have a new benefit at work and they’ve given me an assignment of making sure I understand the health management wishes for those I love. I am curious about your healthcare power of attorney. Can you tell me if you’ve done that and if so where I could find it should I need it?”
If they are willing, ask how recently it was completed and if it has the required signatures. It’s a perfect time to hear about their wishes. If you really want to level up, the person responsible for carrying out those wishes should make a copy of the POA.
- For current caregivers:
If you don’t already have a healthcare power of attorney paperwork completed for the older adult it’s important to do. Why? According to the American Bar Association, having this completed allows you to do things like:
- Talk with the medical team about treatment choices. Ask questions and get explanations, so that you can understand the patient’s medical condition and treatment options as much as possible.
- Asking for consultations and second opinions from other doctors.
- Consent to or refuse medical tests or treatments—including life sustaining treatment in many, but not all, cases.
You don’t need to contact a lawyer to get this form. However, if the older adult has not chosen a medical decision maker already and they are not able to make their needs known you will need to get an attorney to establish who has the DPOA. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is one resource.
You can get a free power of attorney version for your state at Prepare for Your Care or through the American Bar Association. Or Search online: Durable Power of Attorney form for (insert name of your state here). The form itself will outline which signatures are required in your state.
Lastly, make sure you can find the healthcare power of attorney when you need it.
- Place a copy of the healthcare power of attorney in a secure location (firebox or safety deposit box)
- Place a copy of the healthcare power of attorney in a folder by your door, ready for an emergency. If you want a stylish medical document planner to place it in, the Ways & Wane GoKit is a great solution.
- Take a picture of it with your phone and organize it in an “Emergency” folder in your Photos.
May you joyfully prepare so that you can calmly navigate this waning stage of life.