Monday, January 24, 2011


My friends Dorothy and Stan recently asked me to help them with their "durable power of attorney for healthcare." That's the legal form we all should have--or at least some variant of it--that names an agent who can make decisions in our behalf if we cannot.

We tend to think of "cannot" as a condition in which we're too sick in old age to comprehend our choices, but that's not often the case. Life, you've probably noticed, can change rapidly. We're doing our same-old-same-old and suddenly we wake up in intensive care having had a stroke or auto accident. If we're unable to assert treatment (or no-treatment) preferences at that point, the hospital will follow its own default procedures unless our authorized agent appears and dictates what he or she feels is our preference.

These forms are available in several styles, sometimes from office supply stores that handle business boilerplate sheets. More thorough versions like "Five Wishes," which also specify items like organ donation, are usually available through hospices. Most don't need to be notarized, and are free to nominal in cost.

One thing to note. When you need your advance directives document, it often can't be found, having been filed away with old invoices or totally misplaced. So make a half-dozen copies. Give one to your specified agent. Have one placed in your file in your doctor's office. If you're hospitalized, be sure one's added to your chart. Get creative. Post a scanned copy on Facebook.    

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