No one ever plans to become disabled. Although everyone realizes that life will end someday, few of us consider the possibility that we will spend a significant portion of our lives unable to fully care for ourselves. Very often, life gets in the way and bad things happen to ordinary people. Disability doesn’t just happen to the elderly or those who pursue risky and dangerous hobbies. Motor vehicle accidents, work-related injuries, and otherwise common illnesses render many individuals disabled or ‘incapacitated’ every year.
Incapacity planning must be a part of every comprehensive estate plan. Proper planning will allow you to legally designate individuals who can make decisions for your care and empower them to manage your property if you are unable to do so for yourself. As a part of estate planning, there will be sophisticated legal documents involved, but dedicated and experienced legal counsel will help you understand your options and prepare a plan that is tailored to your needs.
Your Estate Planning Should Thoroughly Address Disability Planning. When a person becomes disabled, he or she is often unable to make personal and/or financial decisions. If you cannot make these decisions, someone must have the legal authority to do so for you. Otherwise, your family must apply to the court for appointment of a guardian for either your person or your property, or both. At a minimum, you need broad powers of attorney that will allow agents to handle all of your property if you become disabled, as well as the appointment of a decision-maker for health care decisions. Alternatively, a fully funded revocable trust can ensure that you and your property will be cared for as you desire, pursuant to the highest duty under the law ‘ that of a trustee.
1. A healthcare power of attorney allows your trusted friend or family member to make medical treatment decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your wishes to doctors. Without one, you must have a guardian or ‘conservator’ of your person appointed by the court before decisions can be made on your behalf.
A healthcare power of attorney not only saves precious decision making time, but it also makes sure that the individual you trust the most has the power to make these most important decisions for you if you are unable to make the decisions on your own.
2. A living will or directive to physicians directly informs your doctors that you do not want extraordinary medical measures taken, especially those that would cause you pain or discomfort, if those measures would only prolong the dying process. This document backs up your health care power of attorney. Anyone can deliver this document to your doctors if your agent under your health care power of attorney is unavailable to make health care decisions for you.
3. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), absent a written authorization from the patient, a health care provider or health care clearinghouse cannot disclose medical information to anyone other than the
patient or the person appointed under state law to make health care decisions for the patient. The Regulations promulgated under HIPAA specifically authorize a HIPAA Authorization for release of this information to persons other than you or your personal representative. Thus, you should consider creating such an Authorization so that loved ones and others can access this information in addition to the personal representative.
Planning Tip: Consider preparing a HIPAA Authorization for loved ones and others who potentially need access to your medical information if you become disabled. Your estate
planning attorney can create such a HIPAA Authorization for you.