“My mom’s in the hospital and I need a power of attorney.”
Often, we receive calls from bereft family members navigating a healthcare crisis for a loved one. Many times, the patient is in the ICU and unconscious. It is at these times when family members are struggling to navigate healthcare decisions, insurance issues and daily living expenses – such as continuing to pay the patient’s car note, their mortgage or utility bills – that families find that they need proper paperwork authorizing them to act on their loved one’s behalf.
Unfortunately, if a person is unconscious, they are unable to have a power of attorney completed. Powers of attorney require the principal – that is, the person who is authorizing someone else on their behalf – to have “capacity” when the documents are executed. “Capacity” means that the person is communicative, and aware of what he/she is doing. Obviously, if a patient is unconscious, he or she does not have capacity.
In the absence of medical powers of attorney, state law defaults to a list of surrogate decision makers. Thus, the law allows you to make medical treatment decisions for your loved one in a hospital setting even if you do not have a medical power of attorney. However, where most people begin to run into problems is with insurance.
Typically, an insurance company will talk to a spouse, an adult child, or a parent (of adult children) for a short time after the initial injury. The longer the patient cannot speak for themselves however, the more the insurance company begins to require documentation showing the surrogate as the legal decision maker.
If you do not have powers of attorney pre-injury and your loved one ends up in a contracted health care crisis, then a guardianship proceeding is the only alternative. Such a process takes a long time and is costly. Arranging powers of attorney to kick in in the event of a stroke, car accident, or other illness is a great way to honor your family by taking away unnecessary stress from them in some of the most scary times of their life. Call us today for a brief consultation and rest easy knowing this important piece of helping your family is taken care of.