By planning in advance, older adults can prepare themselves for the contingencies and consequences of living a long time by building their “Response Team” – a group of family members, friends, physicians and lawyers – who are informed about your wishes and can carry them out as directed by you. While there are many reasons to build a Response Team, one of the most important reasons involves responding to our rapidly changing system of health care.
One key role for your response team is to help you when you are sick or injured. To do this effectively, they must be informed and empowered. This is what the legal planning process is all about.
HOW DO I BUILD MY RESPONSE TEAM?
Family members are often our best protectors — they are often the first ones to summon the nurse, call the doctor, contact the insurance company, make arrangements for care after the hospital and deal with government agencies. A spouse, adult child, or sibling can be a good choice for your team. Also, a good friend whom you can count on to be in close attendance can be a valuable member of your Response Team, especially if you do not have family available to help or they are distant. Different team members may take different roles. Ask yourself these questions:
- If you were suddenly hospitalized, who would show up at the bedside, asking good questions on your behalf and helping to plan for your care?
- Who would handle finances, such as paying your bills for you, checking on savings and investments, filing taxes and applying for benefits that you may need?
Once you have identified the principal members of your Response Team, you need to ensure that they have the legal authority and knowledge they need to act effectively for you.
- Have you expressed your views to them on important health care decisions such as the use of life-prolonging measures?
- Do they know where to turn for medical, financial and legal guidance when care or payment problems arise?
- Are they acquainted with your doctor, lawyer and other key advisors who can help them in the event of your illness or incapacity?
- Would they know how to act in your behalf until such time as you regain the capacity to do so?
One of the best ways to strengthen and prepare your Response Team is by addressing the above concerns through the legal planning process. Legal planning involves the creation of key legal documents such as Durable Powers of Attorney, Wills, Trusts, and Health Care Powers of Attorney. Each of these documents directs your Team’s actions at
a time when you cannot direct them yourself.
Just as importantly, the legal planning process involves building relationships among your Response Team members so that they can work together should the need arise. A good working relationship with your lawyer can ensure these people will receive the proper advice on how to handle your affairs should the need arise. Your Durable Power of Attorney will do little good if your Team members do not know where to find it or what to do with it.