Here are 7 important steps you should immediately take to prepare yourself for an unexpected medical emergency during the pandemic:
1. Appoint a Medical Agent. If you have not completed a medical power of attorney (AKA advanced health care directive), now is the time to do so. This powerful legal document appoints someone you trust, such as a family member or friend, who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot. This is the person that the hospital will communicate with if they need authority or direction to provide you medical care, including placing you on a ventilator.
2. Designate HIPAA Authorized Recipients. Your medical information is protected and private under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, meaning that a hospital cannot disclose information about your medical condition without your express authorization. Make sure you have completed an authorization for release of protected medical information in which you specifically designate individuals who may receive medical information about you if you are incapacitated or seriously hurt.
3. Convey Your End of Life Wishes. While it’s critical to appoint someone who can act on your behalf, it is equally critical to express what your personal wishes are if you are placed on life support. A living will is a legal document you must complete to express what you want to have happen if you are put on life support and your medical condition becomes irreversible and terminal, or you are in a permanent vegetative state. Many clients have asked if having a living will would prevent them from being placed on a ventilator for COVID-19 treatment. The answer is no. A living will does not prevent you from being placed or kept alive on life support if your condition is potentially reversible and you are not in a permanent vegetative state. Furthermore, your living will merely conveys your wishes, while your medical agent is charged with carrying them out on your behalf, including the manner and timing of things.
4. Make Sure Your Medical Directives are Accessible. Too many people execute their important medical directives but fail to ensure they are accessible during an emergency. It’s critical to make sure that your attorney has a copy, that your medical agent (and back up agents) know where you keep your medical directives, and to file a copy with your primary care physician and your local hospital. Your medical directives must be accessible to properly work during an emergency.
5. Bring Your Medical Directives with You. Because of the limited contact family members or medical agents can have with the hospital during the COVID-19 crises, we strongly recommend you print copies of your medical directives and place them in an envelope and take them with you on your person to the hospital if you need medical help. This way if the hospital cannot make contact with your medical agents, they will at least know your wishes for your medical care.
6. Make Sure Your Medical Directives are Current. Too many people go through a divorce and fail to update their medical directives. Unless their directives contain a special clause that automatically removes the divorced spouse from acting without revoking the directive, too many directives are automatically terminated upon a divorce. It is also important to think about what would happen if you are legally separated from a spouse or a divorce is pending. For these reasons, you should update your medical directives right away upon a separation from a spouse to ensure your medical directives direct who you now wish to make your medical decisions.
7. Durable Financial Power of Attorney. There is no doubt that your finances would need attention and management if you become seriously ill or incapacitated. Make sure you have a durable financial power of attorney to ensure your finances could be handled and managed by someone you trust during a medical emergency or incapacity, and that you and your dependents can continue to be financially provided for.
Completing medical directives on your own may seem simple, but it is imperative that you understand what you are consenting to, and that your directives are robust enough to cover different scenarios. Many boilerplate forms off the internet are incomplete and leave family members and friends frustrated during a medical crisis when they try to act on your behalf. Now is the time to make sure that you have all your estate planning affairs in order, especially your medical directives.
We care about you and your family and want to make sure you are completely protected. If you or your loved ones need clarification on what you currently have, or if you need help getting your estate plan in place or making updates, please give us a call at 949-718-0420 and we would be happy to assist.
Lastly, if you or a loved one experience a medical emergency, please call us right away so we can help you through. We know it can be incredibly overwhelming, especially under the new restrictions at hospitals due to COVID-19, and we are here to help you navigate the system and provide you critical support.
Laura and Josh
p.s. Thank you to all of our clients and friends serving in the medical community who are providing vital care and support to our community. Your skills, dedication, and service are greatly appreciated and we are thankful for your care and compassion.