If you’re not able to advocate for your own healthcare wishes due to an illness or injury, how can you be sure you get the care you want? If you become hospitalized or enter a long-term care facility, how can you be sure your loved ones have visitation rights, regardless of relationship or sexual orientation?
These questions are particularly important for LGBT couples if you’re not married.
Having a healthcare power of attorney, living will, and visitation directive can make for smoother sailing for you and your loved ones.
Healthcare power of attorney
Also known as a healthcare proxy, this document identifies the person (known as your agent) designated to make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t. Having this document can be particularly helpful if your chosen agent is not your legal spouse.
As you create your healthcare power of attorney, discuss your wishes with whomever you choose, so he or she has solid direction to rely on for potential decision-making. You might also want to let other friends and family know the individual you’ve chosen as an agent so they will be less likely to question that person’s authority to make decisions later.
It’s actually a good idea to name multiple agents too. For instance, if you and your partner name each other as agents, but you are both involved in a car accident, you both will need to have a backup, or successor agent, listed.
If you’re transgender, you may want to include instructions that healthcare providers respect your gender identity as well. While any provider receiving federal funding is required to do this, having it in writing makes it easier for your agent to advocate for you.
A living will provides information on the types of life-sustaining measures you do (or don’t) want taken on your behalf. This could include instructions related to resuscitation, feeding or breathing tubes, and pain medication.
Having a legal document provides direction not only for healthcare providers but also for your loved ones. It can help them make difficult decisions at a difficult time—and may help settle any disputes that might arise if someone questions your wishes.
It’s a good idea to let friends and family know your preferences. This can soften potential stress and also gives you an opportunity to discuss your choices with anyone who may raise objections.
According to federal law, no hospital or long-term care facility can deny your wishes regarding who can visit you, if their decision is based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That doesn’t mean your loved ones will never face resistance though. To ward off that possibility, your attorney can draft a visitation directive that puts in writing who can visit you. The directive can also include your instructions regarding who you do not wish to visit you, whether it’s an individual or a group of people.
While these documents are perhaps the most important—and you might call the healthcare power of attorney and living will essential—there are others you might want to consider.
For instance, you can create a document regarding who has authority to give burial instructions on your behalf. Your state’s laws will define what documentation is appropriate in your state.
You should also be sure to identify in writing who can request and receive medical information about you from your healthcare providers. This direction is related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and may require a separate release or may be included in one of your other healthcare documents.
To make sure your bases are covered, talk with an estate planning attorney about the documents you need in your state. But don’t stop there. Review your documents on a regular basis and update them as needed. Keeping your documents current can help ensure you stay in control of your health and your wishes, no matter what life brings your way.
You should take it with you
It’s not enough to simply have healthcare documents. You also need to make sure they’re easily accessible if they’re needed. Many experts recommend you carry copies of your healthcare and durable powers of attorney, living will, and any marriage/civil union/domestic partnership certification when you travel.
If you’re not keen on packing all of that paperwork, consider storing a digital form on your mobile device or a memory stick. At the very least, bring copies along if you’re traveling outside your home state or to foreign countries. You may also want to provide your agents, your primary care physician, and nearby hospitals with copies. And make sure your loved ones know where to find the documents, just in case.
Wells Fargo Advisors is not a legal or tax advisor. You should consult with your attorney, accountant, and/or estate planner before taking any action.
Source: “Protecting Your Health Care Wishes,” Lambda Legal, http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/take-the-power/health-care-wishes, accessed Aug. 11, 2015.
This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Steve Gunn, Financial Advisor, in Seattle, WA at (206) 344-6664, firstname.lastname@example.org
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