A couple of months ago I had the difficult experience of sitting across the table from a woman who, speaking to me through her tears, told me that her mother was in the intensive care unit of the local hospital – and there was nothing the daughter could do to help make health care decisions for her mother.
This story actually began several years ago when the mother, who lived here in Arizona, started to have serious health problems. The daughter, who lived across the country, began making cross-country trips to periodically check-in on her mother and to take her to doctor’s appointments. Over the course of several years and multiple doctors’ visits, the mother repeatedly assured her daughter that the daughter was in fact her health care agent and also would tell the daughter how she wanted to live out her final days, should her health ever get to that point. The daughter took comfort in knowing that she would be the one to help her mother make those critical, end-of-life decisions.
Fast forward now to my meeting with the daughter. Her world has been turned upside down because her mother needs decisions to be made, but the daughter is not able to do it. Why? Because her mother’s niece turned out to be the agent listed on her mother’s Health Care Power of Attorney document, not the daughter. She was devastated, confused, and beside herself with emotions. Over the past several years, the daughter had trusted her mother and never once asked to inspect the documents. She assumed she was listed. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the niece, who had been listed years before the health problems began, was the agent listed on the document when the time for decisions arrived. Because the mother was now on high doses of pain killers, the doctors would not allow the mother to make any new legal decisions – leaving the daughter out of luck and out of options.
There are several lessons that can be learned from this story. First, legal documents should be reviewed regularly to ensure that the agents that you want are the ones listed on the documents. Don’t just assume that it’s correct! Second, the time to prepare for these types of critical decisions is now – not when you arrive in the hospital. It might end up being too late. And third, make sure your preparation includes executing the necessary and state-specific health care documents with a qualified estate planning attorney. Many websites and retail stores advertise health care documents, but upon inspection, the documents do not meet the standards set forth by the state’s Legislature.
Please don’t leave your health to chance. Make an appointment today with an estate planning attorney at Morris Hall to discuss the options you have in Arizona and New Mexico. The health care you receive might depend on it.
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.