Lifetime documents, as the name provides, are documents that take effect during a person’s lifetime and are no longer effective after a person dies. Essentially, they are documents that make a person’s wishes known or designate an agent to act on a person’s behalf if they are incapacitated and unable to communicate their wishes. The following documents fall under the category of “lifetime documents:”
- Durable Power of Attorney (Business and Financial Matters);
- Medical Power of Attorney;
- Directive to Physicians (also known as the “Living Will”);
- Authorization to Release Medical Information (also known as a “HIPAA Authorization”); and
- Designation of Guardian Before Need Arises.
Most people have heard of a power of attorney, but some people may not know that there are two versions of the document. While the “Durable Power of Attorney” allows a person to appoint an agent to manage their financial affairs, the “Medical Power of Attorney” allows a person to designate one or more individuals to make their medical decisions in the event they are unable to do so. In other words, one document focuses on business and financial affairs, and the other focuses on medical decisions.
The “Directive to Physicians,” more commonly known as a “Living Will,” allows an individual to leave specific instructions regarding the use of life-sustaining measures (such as a respirator) in the event he or she suffers from a terminal or irreversible condition. If someone does not have this document in place, then the agent named in his or her Medical Power of Attorney will make these decisions, and in the absence of a Medical Power of Attorney, then the decisions will be made by family members designated by default Texas law.
The “Authorization to Release Medical Information” allows a person to designate the persons who should be permitted to access your medical information. This document was created in response to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which prohibits medical providers from disclosing an individual’s medical information to third parties without authorization.
The “Designation of Guardian Before Need Arises” allows an individual to designate a guardian of his or her person and estate in the event one is needed. A “guardian of the person” manages personal affairs for someone who is incapacitated and unable to do so themselves. For example, a guardian of the person might assist someone with his or her daily routine. A “guardian of the estate” manages finances for someone who is incapacitated, so they will assist with financial affairs such as paying bills.
We always encourage our clients to have these documents in place. Life is unpredictable, and these documents allow a person to choose a family member or trusted friend to act on their behalf if something happens and they are not able to make decisions on their own. Otherwise, a guardianship may be required, and that process can be extremely time consuming and expensive, which can easily overwhelm someone who is already struggling to assist a loved one who is incapacitated.