Medical Crises for Seniors: Some Suggestions

A financial issue for senior citizens that hasn’t received much attention relates to medical crises, a phenomenon that many of us are exposed to as we age. Medical problems increase following retirement; emotional and financial decisions must be faced as those problems arise.

There is very little one can do to be prepared emotionally for a medical crisis; however, there is a great deal that can be done to be prepared financially. SCJ recommends the following considerations for financial preparedness in the face of medical crises:

• Make decisions NOW, when you are not in the midst of a crisis having to deal with serious medical decisions and feeling overwhelmed emotionally;

• Be sure you and your spouse/significant other have medical power of attorney documents completed, signed and copied to those in your family/friendship circle with whom you have assigned responsibility for your care;

• In addition, be sure you and your spouse/significant other have general power of attorney documents completed, signed and copied to those in your family/friendship circle with whom you have assigned responsibility for your finances and any other decisions that may need to be made in the event you are unable to make these decisions;

• Short of being unable to decide for yourself, when a medical crisis occurs, meet at the hospital with family members or friends who have been assigned responsibility for medical and financial decisions; tell them what you want them to do and how you want them to proceed with your care;

• Review your will and any trust documents you may have; be sure these documents are reviewed by an attorney in the state in which you reside; states have different laws regarding these documents and you need to be sure yours are in compliance with the state in which you live;

• If the medical crisis occurs with a friend or family member (not you) for whom you have medical or financial responsibility, be sure the documents assigning such responsibility to you are current and comply with state law; such documents may need to be reviewed by an attorney from time to time, prior to a medical crisis hopefully, to be sure they are in compliance;

• If the medical crisis occurs with a friend or family member who becomes incapacitated and you have previously been assigned responsibility in a document known as a Durable Power of Attorney, you are known as an ‘Agent’ for the one who is incapacitated; there are a host of legal issues that then must be addressed, including identifying the incapacitated one’s assets and managing those assets to facilitate care for the ill person; the Agent has responsibility to understand and follow the Durable POA carefully; it is a role to be assumed with careful attention to detail; any move that has the appearance of being self-serving must be avoided.

• It stands to reason that the Agent should keep meticulous records about decisions made on behalf of the incapacitated person; a journal is highly recommended;

• Lacking a Durable or General Power of Attorney, you are in a much more difficult position; an attorney specializing in Elder Law should be consulted; ultimately you may need to consider being assigned as a Guardian, a role that is supervised by a local city or county court, in which you are assigned responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the person who is unable to make those decisions him/herself; court supervision is critical to be sure the needs of the one who is incapacitated are met and protected.

There are many legal issues that can be addressed with documents executed (prepared and signed) before a medical crisis occurs. Again, an attorney who specializes in issues specific to the senior citizen years should be consulted about the possible options any given situation may call for. That attorney can help you determine the options and guide you through the decision-making process to insure your needs, or those of your loved one(s), are being met when and if a medical crisis occurs.