What happens if you’re in an accident or have a sudden illness that requires risky emergency surgery—but you haven’t named anyone to make medical decisions for you in the event that you can’t do it yourself?
If you don’t already have a health-care proxy and other documents in place, the medical decision-making usually will fall to your spouse…your adult children…or your parents, in that order. Problem: If that rubric leaves the decision-making to multiple people or to someone you’re not comfortable with, you may need to create a health-care proxy document, a living will and an estate will quickly.
Health-care proxy. Also called a health-care power of attorney, this document names someone to make medical decisions for you. The process for getting the right paperwork varies by state. Often, you can simply print a health-care proxy form from the Internet and sign it before a witness. But you will need guidance about which decisions it covers in your state and what’s required to make it legally binding, so get an estate attorney on the phone or ask the hospital’s patient advocate.
Living will. In some states, the health-care proxy also extends to end-of-life decisions such as removing medical care or withholding life-sustaining treatments. In other states, you’ll need a separate living will, also available on the Internet. Again, check with an estate attorney or the hospital’s patient advocate.
Do-Not-Resuscitate order (DNR) or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). If you don’t want CPR, you’ll need a document specific to that effect, separate from the living will. Withholding CPR must be ordered by a physician, so consult your doctor to complete one.
Will and durable power of attorney. If you don’t have a will and durable power of attorney in place, you might want to quickly draw them up to indicate your wishes regarding your property. But be sure to consult an attorney so you don’t introduce complications for your heirs. Many estate-law firms will help you in an emergency…and several states—with many more soon to follow—have begun accepting electronic wills, which further speeds the process.
Of course, the best scenario is to have all these documents in place long before an emergency. The price for having these documents drawn up varies based on the market, but a reputable estate attorney will give an estimate of the fees before you hire him/her.