The need for a power of attorney and health care proxy is not limited to the elderly and infirm. At any time in life, you could face a medical emergency that leaves you incapacitated for a length of time. Who will pay your bills? Who will protect your investments? Who will make legal decisions for you? You may not be able to postpone these matters until you recover.
Perhaps more urgently, who will make medical decisions for you – maybe life and death decisions – if you are unable to speak for yourself? If your family makeup is complicated, for example if your children from your first marriage do not get along with your new spouse, medical professionals may have no choice but to delay your care while your family argues in court about your best interests. You can take steps to avoid this.
Choose your agent carefully
Choosing an agent to act as your power of attorney or health care proxy should not be an emotional decision. You should not feel obligated to name individuals because they are your oldest children, your best friends or have chosen you to be agent for themselves. Your choice of agents should be thoughtful, taking into consideration their integrity as well as the likelihood that they will comply with your wishes and their fiduciary duties. You can decrease the chances of disputes with the following actions:
- Consider candidates who are financially stable and who will focus on your wellbeing, not their inheritance.
- Avoid naming agents who are close to your age since they may have health issues of their own.
- Make sure the agents you choose understand what the role entails and are willing to accept the responsibility.
- Consider hiring a professional as your power of attorney or health care proxy, but be sure to include the cost in your estate planning.
- Share your agent choices, advance care directives and end-of-life wishes with your family so you have an opportunity to clarify your wishes.
- Avoid disputes over your decisions by including a stipulation in your will reducing or eliminating the inheritance of any heir who unsuccessfully challenges your agent choice.
A critical mistake many in New York make after completing their estate plans and appointing agents for power of attorney and health care proxy is to neglect to re-examine their documents as time passes. Advisors recommend revisiting your estate plan periodically, especially after major life changes such as moving to a new state or remarrying.