Family Health Legal Library

Healthcare Directives: Preventing Serious Legal Proceedings

The Need For Healthcare Directives

Living longer in the United States has caused a number of medical problems, issues and concerns, some of which have serious legal consequences. Quite simply, one of the problems is that many Americans are living into well-advanced years and as a result, they are suffering the effects of older age. The problem manifests itself in the deterioration of the mental faculties of older Americans, when a person no longer has the capacity to manage his or her affairs. Once a person must rely on others to help him/her for assistance, all types of legal issues arise.

However, it is important for everyone to consider these issues, not just those who may be on the verge of losing their legal capacity. These areas impact us all, young or old. Younger Americans need to be concerned about this area for two reasons: (1) they may be facing the serious problems created when their parents failed to take certain preventative measures and became incapacitated; or (2) they may become incapacitated suddenly through all types of common everyday disasters, such as car accidents, cancer at a young age, or other life-impacting problems.

What happens when mental incapacity to manage your own affairs becomes a problem? That is, what happens when someone becomes seriously ill or incapacitated without providing for others to act on their behalf? Bills must be paid, children must be fed and clothed, medical decisions must be made, and all types of things must be done that we do not think about on a daily basis. Many times it is virtually impossible for relatives and friends to act on behalf of a person who has become medically impaired, and to handle their legal affairs, despite their intention to do so.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of proper planning, many families are forced to undertake complicated legal proceedings, even when they do not want to do so. Courts are full of conservatorships, guardianships and other legal cases filed by necessity, by relatives, friends and acquaintances laboring through the lengthy process of trying to take care of the affairs of a person who has unexpectedly become incapacitated. Much of this effort, and the accompanying legal expense, is unnecessary.

One of the most important concerns as we advance in years is how to ensure that our personal wishes regarding our health, our estate [our assets], and our families are taken care of with certainty. The legal profession has recently begun to address certain issues that can help solve many of these problems of needing others to care for us at an older age. Most states now recognize certain legal documents which directly deal with these three areas of our concerns.

There are at least three major legal instruments which can help us take care of our personal wishes for our health: (1) Living Wills; (2) Durable Powers of Attorney for Healthcare; and (3) Durable Powers of Attorney. These documents, when prepared in advance, can seriously limit the legal expenses incurred when a person becomes incapacitated.

Healthcare Directives: Preventing Serious Legal Proceedings
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