For anyone who has heard me speak about Estate Planning, ElderLaw and related topics, you already know that I believe Health Care and Financial Powers of Attorney are critical documents everyone who is 18 or older must have. Coronavirus – specifically COVID-19 – has given my power of attorney “soap box” even more oomph. Kind of like the reminder to wash your hands!
In the United States, as of March 9, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the following regarding COVID-19 cases in the United States.
- Total cases: 423
- Total deaths: 19
- States reporting cases: 35 (includes District of Columbia)
For more up to date information, please visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/. Of course, across the globe, there have been significantly more reported cases, and we crossed the 100,000 mark in 81 countries over the weekend. For more information with current statistics visit the WHO site at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.
Both the CDC and the WHO report that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, it can cause serious illness: about 1 in every 5 people who catch it need hospital care. People in the following categories are at increased risk for being seriously affected: older adults and people with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. It is quite normal for people to worry about how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect them and their loved ones.
The Importance of Health Care Related Documents
The current concern over COVID-19, and the potential for those infected requiring hospital care, highlight the need for powers of attorney, regardless of your current wealth or health.
Updated Medical or Health Care Power of Attorney
Who will make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated? A Medical or Health Care Power of Attorney appoints an agent (typically a family member, spouse or dear friend) to act on your behalf and make decisions for you if you become incapacitated or are not able to make medical decisions. Importantly, you want to make sure this document is up-to-date, unless you want an ex-spouse making life or death decisions on your behalf.
A related document, a Living Will or Advance Directive, specifies wishes regarding medical treatment you do or do not want to receive if you are terminally ill or near death and there is little likelihood of recovery.
Although we recommend that you consult with a lawyer regarding your specific needs and to insure your documents will work, there are generic forms online. The link below will take you to the Missouri Bar’s pdf fillable form.
If you have ever tried to get medical information about a friend or loved one in the hospital, you know it can be difficult. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, prohibits health care providers from disclosing information about their patients. A HIPAA Authorization allows health care providers to disclose information to the people listed on the form. You should list your health care agents on the HIPAA form, allowing them to access your health-related information in an emergency.
Financial Power of Attorney
A Financial Power of Attorney designates someone to sign documents and handle financial matters on your behalf. It can be made effective immediately or can be effective if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own financial affairs. If you are in the hospital or otherwise unable to manage your financial affairs (perhaps quarantined on a cruise ship off the coast of California), this document allows a trusted individual you appoint to manage your financial affairs and sign checks and other legal documents, like a tax return, on your behalf.
Everyone 18 and over needs these basic estate planning documents. Kind of like everyone should have already been washing their hands. 😊 An international health crisis highlights the importance.
Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 for assistance preparing these important documents and for any other questions regarding Estate Planning or ElderLaw.
** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.
Written on March 10, 2020 by Stephanie Copp Martinez, JD