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Caregivers and living wills

An accident or illness may strike at any age, rendering you incapable of handling your affairs yourself and dependent on others for help. Your closest relative, spouse or partner cannot necessarily act on your behalf. Granted, the courts will appoint a caregiver in these cases, but he or she may not be your preferred candidate. Your notary can help in these cases.

By issuing a caregiver designation, you can influence who is selected as your caregiver in advance.

A health care power of attorney provides more comprehensive protection. In it, you can authorise a specific person to handle your affairs for you. A personal section of this document covers preventive care, consent to medical treatment, life-sustaining measures, access to medical records and living arrangements. Medical care is not the only concern, though; financial matters need to be attended to as well. This is often done with a general power of attorney. In an emergency, it authorises a specific person to access your bank accounts and handle the financial side of the emergency, including dealing with insurers or benefit offices. You can limit the scope of this power of attorney. Your notary can provide details and guidance.

While the health care power of attorney authorises a specific person to handle your affairs, you may also want to state your own wishes. This is the purpose of an advance care directive, also called a living will. In it, you give instructions about what kind of treatment you want and how extensive the treatment should be – right up to organ transplants or donations.

Be careful! You may be wondering if you can use standard forms to plan for an unlikely sickness or accident. There are certainly many forms to choose from, published by a variety of companies and organisations. Every one promises comprehensive protection. However, very few keep this promise. The law has defined strict requirements for their wording. Your notary can provide competent, detailed advice and will draw up a document that the courts will honour.

One last word of advice: it is all too human to ignore these unpleasant issues, but it is best to address them in advance. Once you actually need medical treatment or nursing care, it will be too late for preventive notarial action.