How do you respond to a health care emergency involving a senior loved one? The COVID-19 crisis has forced millions of families to confront this important question. The pandemic has hit elder adults disproportionately harder than the rest of society. Too often families realized they lacked the basic health care documents needed to act effectively on their behalf.

The coronavirus scare is far from over and taking steps to protect a senior relative means addressing key estate planning items. Many people think of estate planning as pertaining to wills and trusts, but it also means drafting legally sound health care documents, such as a health care surrogate, a living will, a health care privacy release, and more.

Whether a hedge against the coronavirus, or other health considerations like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, let us discuss four mistakes to avoid when using estate documents to advocate for a senior loved one:

  • Failing to understand a living will. A living will differs from a last will and testament. It is a completely separate legal document that tells others what an elderly family member’s personal choices are concerning their health care, and, in particular, end-of-life medical decisions. A living will is also different from a health care surrogate in that the elder adult’s “agent” must abide by the instructions laid out in the living will document. 
  • Not knowing what the elder adult wanted. If an elder loved one’s health care wishes are either unknown or unclear, then even the most expertly drafted documents can be lacking. Make sure to have specific conversations with an older loved one about health care and put them in writing. This can serve as the basis for constructing accurate health documents, or updating them, and provide future guidance to more effectively advocate for them.
  • Failing to understand a health care surrogate. A health care surrogate may be one of the most important health care estate items an elder family member and trusted advocate can have. They may be useless, however, if poorly constructed or if the agent fails to understand his or her granted authorities. 
  • Choosing the wrong “agent.” Advocating for an elder loved one involves a lot more than legal documents. While critical, they cannot impart tenacity, communication skills, or the ability to observe and question results. Those qualities must come from the chosen advocate. If they are lacking, families should not wait long before choosing someone who is up to the task.

Health care planning may have never been more important than it is now in these times of great uncertainty. If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on related legal matters, contact our office to schedule a meeting.