As communities mobilize to preserve public health in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, you may have concerns about how to remain protected legally. Regardless of whether the virus has affected anyone in your local area, now is a good time to make sure that you have these critical legal documents in place, in the event that COVID-19 or any other unexpected illness impacts you or your loved ones.
What legal documents should I prepare during a global health emergency?
When a global health emergency hits home, many people are caught off guard because they don’t have the legal authority needed to step in and care for loved ones. Among the legal documents that may be needed are:
- Last Will and Testament
- Living Will
- Healthcare Power of Attorney
- Child Care Authorization
- Durable General Power of Attorney
Do I need a Last Will and Testament?
Every adult should have at least a basic Last Will and Testament in place at all times. When a global health emergency is looming, it should remind all of us to create a Will if we don’t have one or to review and revise an existing Will. Along with ensuring that your wishes will be honored after you are gone, a Will provides the only official opportunity you have to nominate a Guardian for your minor children in the event one is needed.
What is an Advance Directive?
An Advance Directive is a legal document that allows you to express your wishes regarding medical treatment to ensure those wishes are carried out should you be unable to communicate them to a doctor at a later date or that allows you to appoint an Agent to make healthcare decisions for you. Since state law governs advance directives, the type of advance directives that are recognized, the decisions that can be made, and the language required to make one may vary from state to state. Most states recognize at least two types of advance directives: a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will.
If you are a parent of adult children, consider getting these documents in place for your kids, especially if they live far away from home (as in college or studying abroad). As an Agent for your adult child, you will be able to get information from doctors and access medical records in order to make healthcare decisions if your child is unable to communicate or decide for themselves.
What is the difference between a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney?
A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone as your “Agent” to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. Typically, your primary doctor must decide that you are unable to understand the nature and consequences of your medical decisions and/or that you are unable to make and communicate your decisions before your Agent’s authority activates.
A Living Will allows you to make your wishes known regarding the medical treatment you specifically wish to accept or reject. In some states, you can include detailed instructions that apply to a wide range of medical decisions that might need to be made on your behalf, including life-prolonging measures and treatment that is intended to relieve pain. Other states limit the decisions that can be made using a Living Will regarding life-sustaining treatments.
What legal document can help me manage the care of my minor children?
If you are the parent of minor children, you undoubtedly worry about the possibility of an emergency occurring when they are in someone else’s care. This concern is heightened when there is a potential health crisis looming. For many parents in your position, a Child Care Authorization provides the perfect solution. A Child Care Authorization is a legal document that allows you to grant a caregiver the authority to do things such as pick up your children from school or consent to medical treatment for your minor children during the period of time they are with the caregiver.
How should I manage the care of aging parents?
Millions of adult children provide unpaid care to aging parents in the United States. In light of the threat posed by the new coronavirus, you may be worried about your ability to manage your parents’ care. Of critical importance is ensuring that you have the legal authority to make health care, legal, and personal decisions for your parents if the need arises. If your parents have not already done so, they should execute a Healthcare Power of Attorney naming you as their Agent as well as a Living Will expressing their wishes regarding healthcare treatments and procedures. It may also be wise to have them execute a Durable General Power of Attorney naming you as their Agent so that you can manage their assets and finances if necessary. Making the Power of Attorney durable means that your authority as an Agent remains in effect even if your parent becomes incompetent or incapacitated.
If your parent has an illness such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, and they are already unable to make their own decisions, then they will not be able to name you as an Agent using a Power of Attorney. Instead, you will need to seek a court-appointed Conservatorship in order to be able to make decisions on their behalf.
Watching and waiting for a global health emergency such as the coronavirus to unfold can make you feel helpless. Making sure that you have the legal documents in place to protect yourself and your loved ones if that emergency comes to pass is a great way to take control of the situation and prevent that feeling of helplessness.