Most of us that have created an estate plan have a living will that tells our loved ones and the doctors our wishes regarding life support so we don’t have to suffer the indecency that someone like Teri Schiavo did.
Most of us also have health care powers of attorney that nominate someone to make our physical health care decisions for us if we cannot make those decisions on our own. But the one document most people fail to have as part of their estate plan is called a mental health care power of attorney, otherwise known as a psychiatric advance directive.
According to the Alzheimer's Association one in eight elderly Americans has Alzheimer’s. It is one of the leading diseases for the elderly today. It is now more important than ever before that you make sure your voice is able to be heard regarding your mental health care decisions when you are no longer able to communicate those desires.
If you do not wish to have electric shock treatment or certain medications administered to you, it is imperative that you have that written in your mental health care power of attorney document.
It is no longer sufficient to simply have a health care power of attorney. In Arizona there is an artificial distinction between what is considered health care and what is considered mental health care. It is important that you have both a health care power of attorney and a mental health care power of attorney in place to ensure that your wishes regarding both aspects of your health care are known.
Without a mental health care power of attorney, your loved ones, including your health care power of attorney agent, will not be able to commit you to an acute-care mental health facility. If you are causing harm to yourself and others and you have not executed a mental health care power of attorney, your loved ones will need to get a court order allowing them to commit you to the mental health facility. This can be a very expensive, time consuming and humiliating process, which is all played out in front of the public.
The documents that you should have in place to ensure that all of your medical rights and desires are made known consist of a health care power of attorney, a living will, a HIPAA form, and a mental health care power of attorney. These documents should be updated at least every three to four years.
Don’t leave it up to the health care profession and the courts to determine how you should be treated if you are no longer able to make your own decisions. Take control of your health care decisions, both mental and physical, by making your wishes and rights known.
Contributed by MH Estate Planning Attorney for Prescott and Flagstaff, David T. Eastman
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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.