Foundation Blog

Planning for the Unplannable

We want to take the opportunity to let you know about a series of legal documents that every adult should have in order to take care of potential medical and financial issues that might arise. These documents are commonly referred to as “disability planning documents” or “ancillary documents”  and they are particularly useful, if not necessary, if you are living but become incapacitated.  They can be drafted by your personal attorney.


This piece will address those documents that deal with medical issues, and the next piece in the series will explain the documents that address financial issues.  In all of these medical documents, you can name agents to make decisions in the event that you are ever disabled or incapacitated due to accident or illness.  In thinking about who to name it’s important to remember that you can always make changes should people you name no longer be the appropriate people at a future point in your life.  For example, many people will change their documents as their children become adults and are mature enough to make medical decisions for them. 


Medical Power of Attorney
A Medical Power of Attorney appoints an agent to make health care decisions for you.  This power comes into effect only if you are unable to make your own health care decisions, and your physician certifies that fact in writing.  The agent’s power to make health care decisions is broad – the agent can essentially make any decision that you could make, if able.  You may appoint one or more alternate agents if the first agent is unavailable.  In selecting agents it’s important to know that who you select to make medical decisions for you can, but does not have to be, the same people you select to make financial decisions for you. 


Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates
A Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates is commonly known as a “living will.”  This form allows you to specify whether or not all available life-sustaining treatments should be used if you have a terminal condition (a condition that will result in death within six months even with treatment), or an irreversible condition (a condition that will result in death if no life-sustaining procedures are used and that renders you incapable of making decisions for yourself).  If you do not wish to receive life-sustaining procedures in these situations or want to make specific requests about life-sustaining procedures, it is important under current law that you express your wishes in writing.  You also have the ability to make specific requests about what treatments that you do or do not want. If you choose not to sign a Directive then your agents named in your Medical Power of Attorney will have the authority to make end of life decisions for you.


HIPAA Authorization
A HIPAA Authorization provides authority to your doctors to release your medical information (records, diagnosis, etc.) to the agents you have designated in your estate planning and disability documents.  Without a release, your doctors are prevented by federal law from disclosing your medical information, even if this information is necessary for your agents to act for you. 



Written by Derry W. Swanger on behalf of the Covenant Foundation
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