The power of attorney is a financial document that names who will step in and take care of an individual’s finances if he is physically or mentally unable to handle them himself. The health care proxy does the same thing in the medical world. People often do not want to make decisions about naming a power of attorney or a health care proxy, but procrastinating is not the best option.
Waiting too long could mean that the court has to get involved or that family members who an individual did not want to be in charge of their finances or health care will, in fact, be the ones who are responsible for making decisions for them.
Example: I met with a client recently who is single, and he has been procrastinating about this for quite some time. Choosing a power of attorney and a health care proxy is important for everyone, including people who are married or who have good relationships with their family, but it is particularly difficult for individuals who are single or who do not have anyone that they would trust with these responsibilities. The client I mentioned has a poor relationship with his sister, and I explained to him that currently the law says that his sister can talk with his doctors in a real emergency and make decisions that he might not want her to make. Hearing that was a “light bulb moment” for him because he wants to be able to dictate who talks to the doctors.
Also, parents may forget that once their children turn eighteen, they do not have the same legal right to know information about their child. In a real medical emergency, they would be contacted, and they would be able to make some decisions, but that does not mean that the doctors would immediately pick up a phone to call them. It is important even just while the kids are home from college to have them sign a power of attorney and health care proxy, so that parents can continue to help them when needed.
People usually begin to create these protections by having a discussion with an attorney about whom they would name. I always recommend naming at least two people on both documents. What if you only name one person and something happens to them? Then it would become a guardianship where complete strangers make the decisions.
In New York, a healthcare proxy amounts to a pecking order because doctors will speak to only one person at a time. The power of attorney is different in that you can name more than one person and designate whether:
- They are required to act together;
- They may have opportunities to act separately; or
- One person is the primary, while the other is the alternate.
Although you can use online resources to create a power of attorney and/or a health care proxy, the best option is to speak with an attorney who can customize the right documents for your needs.
Contact the Russo Law Group P.C. to discuss your situation.
Deanna M. Eble
Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530