What do you think would happen if you were in an accident, unconscious, and the doctor told your spouse that there were two surgical routes to consider? Each choice has its potential risks; each choice has its potential benefits. Would the doctor and hospital accept the choice your spouse makes, even if that choice is against the hospital’s typical treatment policy? Not always.
Imagine that while your 19 year old son was away at college, he developed an illness, or suffered an injury. His doctors/hospital will not give you any details about his condition because he is over 18, and the college will not give you any information about his classes, tuition payment status, or the availability of withdrawing from classes and receiving a partial refund.
Suppose your spouse, who manages most of the family finances, became ill. Would you be able to pay the bills, get information about your spouse’s investments, and make sure that the family continues to run efficiently?
These are not far-fetched scenarios. In my practice I have seen a wife’s medical treatment choices for her husband ignored as against hospital policy. I have seen a wife unable to access money needed to care for her husband after he suffered a stroke because most of the family bank accounts were in his name alone. The couple’s investment counselor would not even tell the wife the extent or nature of her husband’s investments. I have seen a doctor, whose elderly mother was hospitalized in his own hospital, unable to direct the course of his mother’s health care treatment.
There are very simple solutions to these problems. A health care proxy is a document you sign appointing an agent to access your medical records, and to act on your behalf for health-related purposes if you are unable to communicate. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own. A health care proxy can give your agent unlimited authority to make health care decisions or it can give your agent the right to make decisions about only specific kinds of health care treatments. A durable power of attorney is a document in which you designate an agent to access financial records, pay bills, and take care of your financial affairs.
Both a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney are essential parts of any comprehensive estate plan. If you have not reviewed your will and estate plan in the last three to five years, do so now. Make sure your will provides how you want your estate to be administered, and make sure you, and your loved ones, have a health care proxy and durable power of attorney.
Michael D. Weinstein has been practicing all aspects of family law in Westchester County and the surrounding areas for over 30 years. He specializes in wills, trusts, probate, separation, and divorce. His office is located at 150 White Plains Road, Suite 404, Tarrytown, NY 10591, and he can be reached at 914-332-8824, [email protected], or check his website.