3 Legal Documents Caregivers Need to Manage a Senior’s Healthcare

31 Comments

When it comes to a parent or spouse’s healthcare, the law is very strict about who can receive status updates, participate in conversations with medical professionals and make medical decisions. These policies are meant to protect our sensitive information, but they can also pose serious problems for family caregivers.

There are ways to access to a loved one’s medical records and obtain the ability to make decisions on their behalf, but these legal permissions must be established before they are needed for them to be most effective. Unfortunately, many families do not realize that any special paperwork is required for them to participate in a loved one’s care, and the consequences of being unprepared can be very stressful for everyone involved.

You might be barred from accessing vital medical information or unable to direct your loved one’s care if they cannot make their own decisions. In a worst-case scenario, you may need to go to court and petition for guardianship to obtain these legal powers. Fortunately, families can avoid this time-consuming and expensive scenario by working together to prepare three necessary legal documents that will enable them to make critical care decisions.

  1. HIPAA Authorization Form
    The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides legal standards for keeping a person’s health information and records private. This means it is illegal for medical professionals to share any details about your care recipient’s health unless they gave their written consent for you to receive this sensitive information. HIPAA authorization is a simple yet important document for family caregivers. It authorizes the doctor to keep approved family members in the loop regarding a loved one’s medical status. This form only takes a moment to complete, and every doctor’s office should have blank ones on hand for patients. All you need to do is request that your loved one grants you access to their healthcare information by filling out this form.
  2. Health Care Proxy
    Also known as a medical power of attorney (POA), a health care proxy is a legal document that enables a person (called the “principal”) to appoint a trusted relative or friend (called the “agent”) to handle specific healthcare decisions on their behalf.
    While HIPAA authorization only grants a caregiver access to information, a medical POA document grants this access as well as the ability to make medical decisions for their care recipient. This document is crucial because it gives a trusted person the power to manage a loved one’s healthcare in the event they become incapacitated. There is a catch, though. This document must be prepared while a person is still mentally competent to grant an agent these powers.
    It is important for the principal to trust that their agent understands their healthcare goals and will act in their best interest. This is where the next legal document comes into play.
  3. Advance Health Care Directive
    This document is commonly referred to as a living will. An advance health care directive lets people record their wishes for end-of-life care before a medical crisis strikes. With a living will, a person’s loved ones don’t have to agonize over difficult medical decisions. This document essentially spells out instructions for a medical POA to follow when making end-of-life care decisions.
    A living will may indicate specific treatments a person does or does not want performed under certain circumstances. At the very least, the document should specify whether resuscitation should be attempted if breathing stops, whether artificial life support should be used and whether a feeding tube should be inserted.

Preparation is Crucial

Once a healthcare emergency strikes, it is usually too late to prepare these documents. To avoid unnecessary stress and confusion, talk to your family members about getting their affairs in order. It is important for all adults to discuss their personal wishes with loved ones while they are still healthy.

An elder law attorney can discuss individual questions and concerns, prepare these legal documents, and provide advice on additional legal planning tools that may be useful for your family’s circumstances.

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31 Comments

Terrific information.

Another item to consider doing is "Declaration of guardian in the event of later incompetence or need of guardian" as well as a DURABLE POA (not just a POA)

I would like to add that it is important that the documents clearly show the notary seal or impression; sign all documents in blue ink and have 3 multiple original copies made (1 stays with the attorney, 1 for the main person responsible for oversight & 1 for the first alternate); that they be drawn up properly by an attorney who is familiar with elder law in the state where the person resides. Just pulling a form off the internet is NOT the thing to do.

If you cannot afford an elder care attorney (these forms are routine, it really isn't that expensive and if there is an issue later on you have an attorney familiar with your family), you might want to contact a law school to find out when the law students do their pro-bono clinics to have these drawn up and notarized.

Also many long term care facilities/NH require that the resident have Advance Directives with DNR (do not resusitate) choice on file within 30 days of admission.
So if you haven't discussed this already, you will have to do so then and that is much more stressful. Ditto for funeral information - many LTC require this information be on file - again if you haven't discussed this already, you will have to do so then and that is much more stressful.
Be careful about some Living Wills. The papers from the auto legal sites or even the Legal documents from stores such as Staples, do not word the document so that a person who wishes to receive full treatment to save his/her life will receive treatment. You have to check the correct box. It is very confusing. If an hospital employee sees the doc, and assumes that it means to not give extraordinary measures to keep patient alive, then they may treat it almost like a DNR.
N1 - Your comments reinforce why it is so very, very important to have the discussion of death in advance. The visual of a family member going peacefully with loving family in their home amidst their beloved home is not reality for most of us and our elderly parents.

Advance directives are important to discuss and do - many LTC/NH require that one be on file within 30 days of the residents admissions.If you are admitted into the hospital for many procedures you will need to have one done. You don't want to have to do this as your loved one is being wheeled off to anthesthia, or your standing under the bad lighting of the ER signing off a stack of papers.

An AD can be changed but it really needs to be discussed & done.Personally I also think you should discuss what hospice is too.