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Help! My Doctor Asked if I Have a Healthcare Proxy

Help! My Doctor Asked if I Have a Healthcare Proxy

A senior’s perspective on the estate planning process

When I saw my doctor for a recent routine physical and she asked if I had a Healthcare Proxy, boy, was that ever a wake-up call! I consider myself a “young 70,” and have been fortunate to be in good health, so I hadn’t given much thought to planning for a time when that might not be the case. My doctor’s question reminded me that I needed to face facts, do the responsible thing, and contact a lawyer.

I wasn’t looking forward to discussing a time when I could be too ill to speak up for myself, but once Bracha explained how we would work together, I felt more at ease. She helped me understand what a Healthcare Proxy is all about, and how I can make sure my wishes about medical treatment will be respected. I understood the need to set up guidelines before a medical crisis happens, but the whole thing was new to me, and I had a lot of questions. Bracha answered them all, and I felt confident setting up a Healthcare Proxy that would work for me.

We also talked about my will. I’d set it up years before when my children were young and needed a guardian. But since then, my assets had grown, and my children had become adults. I knew I needed to update my will. But we also had to review my other assets with beneficiary designations which would pass outside the will. And for my assets to really be distributed as I want them to, I may have to update the designations too.

Bracha also explained how a Power of Attorney (POA) appoints an agent to make legal and financial decisions, and how it can avoid the need to go to court to have a guardian appointed if a person becomes incapacitated. But I wasn’t ready to set up a POA, and wanted to give it more thought. We discussed the rule of thumb that it’s best to review an estate plan at least every 5 years, and I can revisit whether to have a POA at that time if I haven’t decided before.

I learned that an estate plan is more than a will. My Healthcare Proxy, beneficiary designations, and a future POA are all part of my estate plan – and they all have to work together.

When it came to choosing who would carry out my wishes in the future, I didn’t want to burden any one child with all the responsibilities. When Bracha explained what the Executor of my will would do, I quickly realized that my son, who’s an accountant and used to managing financial details, would be the best person to handle the job. And since my daughter’s comfortable in medical settings and lives close enough to be able to get to the hospital quickly, it made sense to make her my Healthcare Proxy.

I was comfortable with my decisions, but I worried about discussing them with my children. What should I say? How would they react? Bracha understood my concerns. She gave me some very useful ideas for speaking with them, as well as materials from The Conversation Project to help guide the discussions.

I’ve always tried to be a responsible parent. Completing my estate plan has been a way of continuing to do just that. If my children know my wishes for medical treatment, it can save them a lot of heartache in the future. And if my will is as inclusive and clear as it needs to be, it can save them money, time, and stress down the line. So I know that the day I receive my documents, a weight will be lifted from my shoulders.

*Some facts have been altered to protect the client’s privacy.

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