We are all aware that planning is key to the success of any military operation. This also applies to all of our veteran service members in planning our “life after the military”.
If you do not have a plan in place to avoid the imposition of a guardian for you and/or your family members you may face a situation where “the circumstances will make the decision for you.”
This is especially true as we all age and move toward receiving our “reward” after we die, but it is keenly true for the time we have left here on earth.
It is true that advances in medical care allow us to live longer and more healthy lives than ever before. It is also true that most of us will reach a point when we will need help in managing our affairs like making health care decisions, assistance in our activities of daily living (ADL’s), and managing finances.
If you have not made provisions to avoid a guardianship, you and your family may face the imposition of a guardian of the person (for medicals decisions) and guardian of the estate ( for financial decisions).
It is a rather simple process to put “alternative resources” in place to avoid a guardianship. For example, a durable power of attorney, can replace the need for a guardian of the estate, and a medical power of attorney, can take the place of the need for a guardian of the person.
Most people believe that a will is important, but the management of our life and the lives of our loved ones without the imposition of a guardianship before we die are more important that we may understand. A guardianship requires court action, the involvement of an ad litem attorney (a court appointed attorney to investigate the living arrangements of the proposed ward), and can cost over $5,000.00 just to have a guardian appointed. Even after the guardianship is in place, the court will require annual audited reports, budgets that can limit your expenditures and other onerous reporting requirements.
And, most people believe that, “my family”, a spouse or child, can make those decisions for me. However, as medical ethics evolves, fewer and fewer medical providers are willing to allow medical decisions to be made without written authorizations. And privacy concerns prevent health care providers from sharing the medical information necessary to make an “informed decision” about medical care. Hospitals and physicians need a “HIPPA” release to allow medical information to be shared and even for physicians to speak to the patient’s family at critical times.
I encourage everyone to have the following documents prepared by a qualified lawyer (online documents often have fatal flaws, despite the advertising you see, and the apparent cost savings):
Durable power of attorney – allows your appointed agent to take financial action on your behalf;
Medical power of attorney – allows your appointed agent to make medical decisions – if and only if – you can not make those decisions yourself;
HIPPA – the federally required release for you medical providers to share information with your family and others you trust;
Directive to physicians – allows you to share your end of life choices with your family and loved ones, relieving them of the burden to make those choices when faced with critical health matters.
Don’t let the “circumstances make the decision for you”, or what we used to call in the military becoming “overcome by events”. This is especially true for individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. You may face a situation where you or your loved one no longer has the capacity to execute the recommended documents and can not avoid the imposition of a guardianship.
As a note, these decisions require careful consideration and the courage to address our inevitable mortality. See the” chaplains corner” for spiritual counseling, but see a qualified lawyer to assist you and your family in successfully planning for our lives as we move forward here on earth.
S. Craig Daniell (COL [R]) – SJA for the 75th div assoc.