Legal documents, such as power of attorney, are important

  • Fri Oct 21st, 2016 11:10pm
  • Life

By Mark Harvey

Those of you who have been following my weekly meanderings for more years than you care to remember are well aware that I go on about durable powers of attorney and advance directives (living wills, etc.) with some degree of unpredictable regularity.

A reasonable question would be, “Why does he keep doing that? We’ve already covered this ground!”

A reasonable answer is, “Because there keep being ‘new’ people who care.” Besides, today I have a new twist on it.

First, the obligatory primer: A “power of attorney” is a legal document that allows you to grant the authority to do something on your behalf to someone else. An example would be that you could grant your brother-in-law the authority to sell your 1968 VW bus, while you vacation in Newfoundland. He does it, so mission accomplished, and the power of attorney expires.

A power of attorney (POA) is also predicated on the fact that you know what you’re doing (informed consent) when you grant that authority;. Now, if you’ve drawn up a POA that grants someone the authority to make financial or health care (or any other kinds) of decisions on your behalf, then something happens to you that impacts your ability to know what you’re doing, that POA is instantaneously null-and-void. Why? Because you’re no longer able to grant informed consent.

So, think stroke or dementia or other unhappy thoughts. Right! Your POA just became useless.

A durable POA endures (or, maybe, only kicks-in after) said unhappy event. So, when you can no longer make decisions for yourself (think, $ + medical), someone else can — so, you have it when you need it. Get it?

OK, a “Health Care Directive” (living will, whatnot) is a document that declares what kind of medical interventions you do or don’t want, in the event that you’re in no shape to speak for yourself, at the time. Now, if you want all the “heroic interventions,” which is a perfectly acceptable thing to want, then don’t worry about a Health Care Directive, and that’s what you’ll get: the full-meal deal.

By the way, you can revoke or revise either a durable power of attorney and/or a health care directive any old time you like, so you are not “setting anything in concrete.”

A number of us consider these two documents integral parts of the I-doubt-that-I’ll-live-forever package, along with wills and (as applicable), Community Property Agreements.

Reasonable question No. 2: “So, what’s the ‘new twist’ you threatened us with?”

Reasonable answer, with a bit of context:

Every time this subject comes up, people immediately want to know where online they can get forms for these documents, and I’m never a big fan of that. I think there’s a lot to be said for sitting with an “elder law” attorney, because those folks have the insight and experience to ask us the right questions that force us to consider the what-about-this and what-about-that. That’s still what I think is the best idea.

However, I do concede that some folks simply do not have the money to allow that to happen, so I’ve directed them to a free resource: washingtonlawhelp.org, which has an amazing trove of legal resources. It’s free and it’s maintained by the Northwest Justice Project — COMPLETELY reputable.

The new twist is that Northwest Justice has recently revised the Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive form on this site. It has split them apart and made them fillable PDF forms. They’ve also attached a nifty little glossary so you can make sure that you understand the terms that appear in the forms.

If you go to the www.washingtonlawhelp.org website, you can search for them. No credit card required.

I happen to be a big fan of both of these kinds of documents, regardless of the specifics that anyone might choose to include in them, for one simple reason: If you never need them, no harm. But if you ever do and you don’t have them, it’ll be too late to get them — and the people you purport to love will be left scrambling to clean up your mess.

If you decide to cruise the WashingtonLawHelp site, it might be smart to take an extra minute or two to see what else is there – You can learn a lot. I always do; but, then, I’m increasingly struck by how much I have to learn.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.