While it isn’t the easiest conversation to have, one of the greatest resolutions you can make in the new year is to ensure that the legal trail regarding your parents’ finances and health care are in order. Today, we’ll talk about health care.
According to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging, there are three types of health care proxies: an Agent, a Surrogate and a Guardian. All three types are legally permitted to make health decisions for the senior, but in slightly different capacities.
A Health Care Agent is a friend or relative, usually appointed by the senior him- or herself, in a signed legal document called an advance directive (also known as a durable power of attorney for health care).
A Health Care Surrogate is a family member or close friend who is called upon to make medical decisions on behalf of the senior, even though the senior has not specifically named anyone as their agent.
A Health Care Guardian (also known as a conservator), is an individual designated by the court to make health care decisions on the part of the senior.
Regardless of the title, health care proxies make decisions that the patient would have to make, but for some reason is unable to do so. To make the most informed decisions, the proxy should:
- Have access to your parent’s medical records and any pertinent information regarding their health or health care. This includes information about any conditions, treatments and health insurance, as well as the legal right to speak with the patient’s health care providers.
- Have the ability to request additional information or request a second opinion from other health care professionals before making a decision or consenting to a procedure or treatment for the senior.
- Have the authority to request that the doctor or provider speak directly to the patient, if the patient has the mental capacity to understand his or her condition and the options being presented.
- Understand that being a health care proxy does not require you to pay anything out of pocket, nor does it put you at legal risk. Payments and insurance claims are handled through the patient’s funds and policies only.
- Realize that the doctor or health care provider expects the proxy to make decisions and discuss choices. Action and decision-making is required, within a reasonable time frame.
The best time to discuss becoming a proxy is when your parent is still capable of making decisions and able to express their desires for health care outcomes.
Members of the Boomer Generation also boast one of the largest populations of the “Sandwich Generation” – individuals who are nearing retirement age and are caring for both young adult children and elderly parents.
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