- By Jesson & Rains Associate Attorney, Danielle Nodar
The beginning of a new year lends itself to reflecting on the year that has passed and setting goals for the future. Come January, we are bombarded with information about New Year’s resolutions and implementing plans to help us transform our resolutions from lofty dreams to our reality. From health goals relating to diet and fitness, financial goals such as saving for retirement or paying off longstanding debt, even decluttering our homes--there is no shortage of information about what we can do to improve our present and plan for our future.
However, one area of planning that many people seem to put off is creating an estate plan. Estate planning involves meeting with an attorney to discuss things like your assets and debts and how they could impact your estate plan; how you want your property distributed at your passing; who will administer the probate of your estate; who will handle your financial affairs and medical decisions if your become incapacitated and are no longer able to make those decisions on your own; and other important decisions that could make a lasting impact on your loved ones.
Even if you have an estate plan in place, you should meet with your estate planning attorney every three to five years to review any life changes or changes in the law. Some reasons to update an estate plan are:
If you have had any major life changes or just want to ensure that your estate plan is in order, make it a goal for 2019 to plan for your future and the future of your loved ones with estate planning. We can help you to ensure that your property is distributed how and to whom you want it to be distributed and to ensure that you are leaving your family unburdened.
In honor of that day, we thought we would provide an overview of the healthcare-related documents we draft for our clients in addition to the standard wills and trusts that most people realize are part of jobs. Additionally, though, estate planning attorneys draft documents that deal with the potential for incapacity during their clients’ lifetimes. These documents cease to have any effect after the client has passed away, so they are not true estate planning documents if you consider that definition to include only documents that deal with property distribution. Estate planning attorneys help their clients plan for possible incapacity with the following documents:
(1) Durable power of attorney. In this document, you would name an agent to act in your place as to financial, business, and legal decisions, if you were incapacitated (unable to handle your affairs).
(2) Health care power of attorney. In this document, you would name an agent to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot speak for yourself. It is not necessarily an end-of-life document. You could be going in for a routine surgery and under anesthesia, for example.
(3) Living Will. This is an end-of-life document. You will state under what conditions and terms you do not want to be kept on life support. If you do want life support (or if you want to leave it up to your healthcare agent), you do not complete this document.
In order to sign these documents, you must have capacity to know what you’re doing. Waiting until someone is incapacitated to handle this means that you have waited too long. These documents must be completed in advance of any medical issues. If you would like more information, please give Jesson & Rains a call.
A few weeks ago, viewers across North Carolina were shocked when they saw a story on the news about a mother, Rae Stone, and her son, Forrest. Forrest had just turned 18 when he was involved in a snowboarding accident that left him in a coma. The Virginia hospital treating Forrest would not allow his mother to make medical decisions on his behalf or access his medical information due to HIPAA. According to the news story, the doctors at the hospital were the ones who were deemed to be the decision makers.
Clients in North Carolina want to know: Would this happen in North Carolina?
The answer is maybe. In North Carolina, the following people, in this order, are authorized to consent to medical treatment on behalf of an incapacitated patient:
(1) A health care agent appointed pursuant to a valid health care power of attorney (unless the court has appointed a guardian and suspended the health care agent’s power);
(2) A court-appointed guardian;
(3) An attorney-in-fact, with powers to make health care decisions for the patient;
(4) The patient's spouse;
(5) A majority of the patient's reasonably available parents and children who are at least 18 years of age;
(6) A majority of the patient's reasonably available siblings who are at least 18 years of age; or
(7) An individual who has an established relationship with the patient, who is acting in good faith on behalf of the patient, and who can reliably convey the patient's wishes.
(8) The patient's attending physician.
Therefore, if a power of attorney or guardianship does not exist, in the event your unmarried child is incapacitated, you should be able to consent to their medical treatment in North Carolina. If you are married, you should be able to consent to your spouse’s treatment if they become incapacitated.
Given the North Carolina statute, is there any reason why I should fill out a health care directive or appoint my loved one as my power of attorney? Yes.
 Power of attorney for the sole purpose of making medical decisions on your behalf, or a health care agent named in your advanced health care directive (which outlines your wishes in the event you become incapacitated)..
 Power of attorney over health care decisions (as you appoint).
 N.C.G. S. § 90-21.13.
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