How to Decide Who Your Healthcare Proxy Should Be

It’s especially important to name a healthcare proxy, because the chances of having a crisis escalates dramatically as we age. That’s why so many people put off naming a healthcare agent, says Forbes in the article “How to Select A Healthcare Agent” often only addressing this, when they are completing other documents for their overall estate plan.

What usually happens is that people get so stressed out about naming a healthcare agent that they put it off or make a bad selection. Making it even worse, is neglecting to tell the person they have chosen for this important responsibility.

It’s not guaranteed that the person you chose as your healthcare proxy will ever be called on to serve. However, if they are, you’ll want to make sure they meet certain guidelines. For one thing, they’ll need to be at least 18 years old. They cannot be your direct health care provider or any of the direct health care provider’s employees, unless that person is also your spouse. They have to be willing to speak up and adhere to your own wishes, even if those wishes are not the same as their own. You’ll want to have a very candid conversation with the person you think you want to name as your healthcare agent.

You might want to go through this exercise to make sure they are really willing to carry out your wishes. Create a worksheet that describes in detail some of the situations they may face. There are a few sources for this kind of worksheet, including one from a group called Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit centered on helping people get what they want at the end of their lives.

If you are close with your family, it may seem obvious to select your spouse, first-born child, or a sibling for this task. However, be realistic: when push comes to shove, will they be able to stand up for your wishes? Will they be able to deal with the fallout from family members, who may not agree with what you want at the end of your life? They’ll need to be up to the challenge.

Age is a real factor here. You want your agent to be available in both the immediate and distant future. If you have a sibling who is only two years younger than you, she’ll be 84 when you are 86. That may not be the time for her to make hard decisions, or she may not be available—or alive. Select a few backups, and make sure the primary, secondary and even tertiary are listed on your advance directive.

Geography also matters. The person may be called upon in a crisis—if you are on the West Coast and they are in the Midwest, will they be able to get to your bedside in time? Many hospitals and skilled nursing facilities require a live human being to be physically present, if critical care decisions need to be made. Someone who lives within a 50-mile radius of you, might be a better choice.

Once you’ve made the decision, you’re almost done. Have a conversation with the person, whether they are the primary or a backup. You should also have a conversation with your estate planning attorney, to make sure that your healthcare directive and any related documents are all set for your future.

Reference: Forbes (April 10, 2019) “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy”

 

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Does Your Estate Plan Include Furry or Feathered Family Members?

Here’s a sad fact: The Humane Society of the United States estimates that as many as 100,000 to 500,000 pets end up in shelters, after their owners die or become incapacitated. So, while we spend upwards of $60 billion on food, supplies and veterinary care, says The National Law Review in “Estate Planning For Your Pets,” we also allow many beloved pets to end their lives in shelters.

The answer is to include your pet’s care in estate planning, just as we do for our family members. The first major consideration is to name who you would want to be responsible for your pet, if you should become incapacitated. Make sure that person is willing to take on the role of caretaker and that they have sufficient room in their homes (and their hearts) for your pets.

If they agree, then start by preparing a sheet with this basic information:

  • What does your pet eat? Do you give him/her treats, and if so, what kind?
  • Medical records for your pet: vaccinations, surgery, special medications.
  • The name of the veterinarian and any specialists.
  • What does your pet do, when she/he is nervous or anxious? What calms them down?
  • What other information would you want someone to know, in your absence?

Speak with your estate planning attorney to see if they have a “Pet Care Authorization” form. This is a form that is similar to something you would use for a child staying with a relative who might need care. The form would designate the agent to act on your behalf for a variety of situations, including medical care.

For planning for your pets after you die, you can designate a caretaker. This may be the same person who agreed to care for your pet, if you became incapacitated. You can do this in a last will and testament or a revocable living trust. You’ll also need to provide funding for the care of your pet.

You can use a trust as an alternative to an outright distribution of funds to the caretaker. The pet trust would be overseen by a named trustee, who would be responsible to ensure that funds are used to benefit your pet(s). Make sure to allot a reasonable amount of money to cover the cost of veterinary care, grooming, feeding, training and any additional expenses.

You don’t have to be a wealthy person to have this arrangement in place. It is simply a practical matter to ensure that your furry family members are taken care of, after you pass away. Another factor to consider: what is the average age expectancy of your pet? A parrot could easily live 60 to 80 years, and a horse could live for four decades. The care and feeding of a horse will be considerably higher, than for a golden retriever or house cat.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how pet care can be built into your estate plan, so next time your pet welcomes you home you will know you’ve planned for their future.

Reference: The National Law Review (Feb. 18, 2019) “Estate Planning For Your Pets”

Suggested Key Terms: Pet Trusts, Beneficiaries, Trustees, Agent, Estate Planning Attorney

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