By CHRIS MANOS, Montana Generational Justice
When we think of “advanced directives” like powers of attorney, we often think of them only for end-of-life situations. But what if you are unable to make your own financial or health decisions during any incapacity because of an accident or other medical emergency? Too often we put off needed critical life planning documents until then.
Why do you need any of these documents and when? What life planning documents should you have? What do you need to do with them?
Doctors and medical providers often ask if you have an advanced directive. These documents aid us while we are living and help us carry out our financial or health wishes. They can be helpful guides to our family and doctors.
They include legal documents, such as durable financial and health powers of attorney (POA) and providers orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST). For the purpose of this article, we will focus on durable POAs.
For living individuals, both financial and health POAs are key documents. They are “durable,” because they can be used when you are incapable for whatever reason to make your own decisions, and you require the assistance of a trusted person, often called the agent.
They complement each other as a financial POA provides directions on handling your finances, and a health POA provides direction on your medical treatment.
You will need to decide who is going to be that trusted person or agent for each of your POAs—your spouse, partner, family member, or friend. In selecting that person, you want to consider who would make the decisions you would want, either temporarily because of an accident or longer term if end-of-life situations are at hand.
An agent you choose does not need to be the same for both financial and health POAs. In many cases, they might be different. The person or agent you want for a financial POA may be your spouse or other person who can handle the financial decisions. Your health agent, however, might be someone other than your spouse or family member, as you might appoint someone else to handle the health decisions.
It is also recommended you have alternates or successor agents named, in case the first person or primary agent is either unavailable or unwilling to act on your behalf.
The next step in the POA is to provide the financial and medical directions you want. While this might appear difficult, and you might not know what you should include, today there are helpful forms that provide some suggested direction.
These model forms are often available through state resources. In Montana, the Montana State University (MSU) Extension Service has many helpful publications on life planning, found in their MontGuides—www.montana.edu/estateplanning/eppublications.html.
A recent registryregistry, has an explanation with forms that have recommended provisions you can use for health POAs.
While you may be able to complete these yourself, often an attorney or a local nonprofit can provide assistance for completing the documents properly, such as Montana Generational Justice (www.mtgenjustice.org).
An MSU MontGuide, Power of Attorney (Financial) (MT199001HR) (2018), reviews financial POAs and provides a suggested form as well.
Once you complete both financial and health POAs, the next decision to make is where should you keep them and who should have copies.
The original POAs should be kept in a safe place or given to your trusted person or agent.
Copies should be provided to other family members. You should give original health POA to your medical provider, to place in your health records, and to the agent. Give additional copies to other family members.
Montana also has an End-of-Life Registry where you might also keep POA copies for access when you are traveling or out of state—see the MontGuide Montana’s End-of-Life Registry (MT200602HR) (2019) for more information.
Keeping POAs in a safe deposit box is not recommended because of the difficulty in getting to them when you might need them. MSN
Chris Manos, an attorney with over 30 years’ experience in both private and government practice and currently an “emeritus” lawyer and volunteer, works with various nonprofits, including MT Generational Justice (MGJ). MGJ provides assistance in completing financial and health POAs and other important legal documents through their Modest Means program. They can be reached at www.mtgenjustice.org, and [email protected]