Incapacity might be harder for some people to imagine than death. They can’t wrap their thoughts around the idea of being alive yet unable to function.
Making decisions for how you want to be cared for while you are still able to choose, is a gift to yourself and your loved ones. If you are not able to convey how much intervention you want, or if you want no care at all, your children and medical professionals will have to make the decision for you. According to Barron’s in “Three End-of-Life Estate Plan Lessons,” not planning for incapacity creates a heartbreaking situation for your heirs and could also undo a great deal of your estate plan.
Let’s look at some important lessons about incapacity planning:
Inform your surrogates and agents about your wishes immediately. You should also explain your thought process to them so they have complete information to carry out your wishes if necessary. What often happens is that Dad has a fall or an illness that puts him in rehab. The family reacts by shifting into crisis mode, and they make important decisions relying on the information readily available instead of the complete picture.
Select some strong surrogates. These are agents or advocates to whom you grant durable power of attorney. They will have control of your welfare. This includes handling your finances and paying your bills. Therefore, in addition to having great trust in your surrogates, you have to be sure that they’re able to manage your finances. Discuss the day-to-day administrative and financial tasks that they may need to monitor for you. Some people will divide the responsibilities into two jobs: a healthcare surrogate who will decide your medical decisions and a financial power of attorney to maintain focus on your financial affairs.
Consider the capacity of the people you are assigning these difficult tasks to. A fragile individual who has never been able to advocate for themselves and who can’t make a decision without checking with three other people, should not be asked to make a major healthcare decision. A trusted family friend or a person who you know is capable of making good choices, even when they are hard choices, is a better person to be named as your medical surrogate.
The decision to remove life-support is not an easy one. Have a conversation with the person you name so that they have a full understanding of what your wishes are. You should thank them in advance for their willingness to take on this responsibility. It should not be given or accepted lightly.
Reference: Barron’s (November 8, 2016) “Three End-of-Life Estate Plan Lessons”