Love and Protect Yourself
My heart has been heavy the last couple of weeks. In November, I received a call from a hospital caseworker about a 65-year-old man that had a stroke after having a stint put in his brain. He lay alone in his apartment for two days until the neighbors heard him yelling and called the paramedics. He was stabilized at the hospital and when it was time to be discharged it was evident that he needed round-the-clock care. We learned from the paramedics that returning home was not an option since his home was uninhabitable.
Michael was a 9th grade teacher that was pushed out of the system because of policies he disagreed with. Subsequently, he retreated to his apartment where he reclusively lived for the last ten years. The evidence of 700+ pizza boxes and bags of Land’s End dirty clothes was evidence that hoarding and hiding from society was his lifestyle. He was an angry man when we first met, mad at the cards he was dealt and slighted that he was going to lose his independence. I understood right away that he could make his own decisions but obviously made a lot of bad ones. I found him a personal care home, exterminated his bug infested apartment, reclaimed the few salvageable items (pictures, buddhas, a Moroccan armoire, CDs, a stereo, books, documents and his kitchen knives), rented a storage unit, laundered 125 pounds of his clothes, bought towels, toothpaste, deodorant and slippers.
I visited him often. We bonded over Milan Kundera, Hermann Hesse, Salinger and discussed Amor Towles’ novel Gentleman in Moscow which I had bought for him while recovering. Michael was starting to thaw and he actually told me “thank you and love you” the last time I visited. He was estranged from his family. I asked him repeatedly to reconnect and assign one of his sisters his powers of attorney. He told me he would think about it.
Michael died in his sleep on January 23rd. The care homeowner called me since he had no one legally in his charge. I had the uncomfortable task of calling his sister. Now, all of his assets are locked and his estate will have to be probated. All of this could have been avoided if he had put his things in order and assigned a power of attorney.
What is a Power of Attorney (POA)?
It is a legal document that gives a person, or trusted organization, the legal authority to act for you to manage your assets and make financial and legal decisions on your behalf.
Emily Taylor, an elder care referral partner of mine, explains: “Having ancillary documents, including a Medical Power of Attorney, Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization, and Directives to Physicians avoids a court-created guardianship for you when a decision needs to be made or affairs need to be managed while you’re alive but unable or unwilling to make the decisions yourself. Preparing these documents gives you the opportunity, while you are well and able, to name the people you trust to make your decisions. Other ancillary documents, such as Declarations of Guardian in case of future need (for you or your incapacitated or minor children) and Appointment of Agent to Dispose of Remains, appoint individuals and/or lay out your wishes around other matters that may be sensitive or difficult to decide, like your burial wishes or custodian of your children. Executing these documents not only saves you money (an estate plan is less expensive than creating and maintaining a guardianship for years to come), but it also memorializes your intentions in writing, saving your loved ones from heartbreaking guess work when and if the time comes to make decisions on your behalf.”
Often my clients say that they will do these documents from forms they find on the internet. I asked lawyer, Annalee Mathis May if this is sufficient. She replied: “As a reminder to those who look to the internet for Medical Powers of Attorney, the Medical Power of Attorney alone is not enough to protect yourself when the need arises. Today, a HIPPA release must also accompany the Medical POA to have medical information released. Also, if desired, a Directive to Physician to have last wishes followed must be prepared in addition to the Medical POA.”