Personal Succession Planning – Part II – Medical Power of Attorney

In the first installment of this series I discussed organizing your important documents and consolidating assets.  Today, in Part II, I will begin to outline the various documents that may be part of your estate plan.

The most important part of Personal Succession Planning is having complete and up-to-date Estate Planning documents that clearly express your wishes.  The cornerstone of any plan is the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA).  In the State of Michigan there are two, one for health care decisions and the other for financial decisions.  A DPOA is a legal document authorizing someone to act for you.  It may authorize immediate powers to your agent (the person you are authorizing to act), or it may allow them to act only upon your incapacity (springing).  If incapacity should strike, your agent can make decisions on your behalf until you are able, without need for court involvement.

The Medical DPOA names who will be in charge of your medical decisions.  Generally you want to name a primary agent and at least one successor agent (I recommend that at least one agent be from a generation below).  Once you have decided who you want to act as an agent, I strongly advise conducting a family meeting to discuss your wishes in detail; however, you should let your family know that this meeting is for future planning purposes only.  I scared my children half to death when I started this conversation without letting them know I was healthy.  At the family meeting you should make your wishes crystal clear.  Would you want life support if your doctors determined you would not get well and that you would be in a permanent coma?  Be sure your agents and the rest of the family understand and are willing to comply with your wishes.  I have seen families torn apart by these end-of-life decisions and all of the turmoil could have been avoided with a conversation.

Another issue that arises more frequently is understanding how to properly authorize multiple people to have access to information regarding your condition and medical care. I have a client who is Medical DPOA for her mother; she has two wonderful sisters who are actively involved in Mom’s care.  The nursing facility where her mother resides refuses to provide any medical information to the other two sisters.  However, if my client’s mother had signed a HIPAA Release for her other daughters prior to her incapacity, the facility would release information to all parties.  The HIPPA Release would not authorize the other sisters to make medical decisions, but at least they could call and ask the doctor or nurse about Mom’s care.

All comments and suggestions are welcome.

Suzanne M. Antonelli, CFP®