By William B. Howell
If the day ever comes that you are called upon to become a caregiver, whether it be for a parent or your spouse, you will likely feel at the very least overwhelmed if not completely lost. What do you do first? Many times these situations begin with an emergency. Who would you call other than 911? Do you know the phone number of the doctors or even the names of the doctors that have given treatment in the past (and who has the medical records)?
In an emergency situation, when you get to the hospital there will be a lot of questions to be answered. There is the medical history to be given, possibly information about any prior surgeries and approximately when they took place, are there any allergies involved and if so, what type. The question is: Do you know? Have you asked about these issues when you had the opportunity?
Even when there is not an emergency, there will be numerous additional demands upon your time. There will be the inevitable doctors’ appointments to be kept, prescriptions to be filled or refilled, caregivers to be scheduled, and you have probably taken over paying the bills and they have to be attended to in a timely manner. Again, you need to know the information regarding these various obligations as well as where the financial accounts are located and who has access to them. If your loved one is in the hospital rather than ambulatory, your presence will be required for comfort, for decision making, and to try to keep informed of what the prognosis may be.
You had a busy life before. We all do. Where will you find the time to take on these new obligations? You will, because you have to. But having as much as possible in writing will be a great aid to handling those hectic time demands. Many people find that a notebook that you can jot things down as they come to your attention would be very helpful.
And don’t forget those minimal legal documents that you need in order to have authority to act on behalf of the person for whom you are giving care. At a minimum you are going to need a good advance healthcare directive with HIPAA provisions. This latter set of letters refers to the federal medical privacy regulations that may well interfere with your ability to give good care decisions for your loved one, especially if you are prevented from communicating on their behalf. And you will need a good and thorough durable power of attorney that gives you the necessary specific authority to act in business matters as well. But even a well-written power of attorney may not be honored. Then you are left with only the alternative of going to court for authority. A living trust could be more effective.
Writing is essential. Having it in writing is essential for you and for the well-being of the one you care about. It will pay dividends in your peace of mind as well as your efficiency in caring if you spend just a little time and put as much as you can in writing. y
William B. Howell is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and practices law in Ridgeland.