If you are in an accident or develop a severe illness and become incapacitated, do you know who will take care of your medical, financial and personal decisions? To ensure you retain as much control as possible in these scenarios, you can appoint substitute decision-makers.
Below are some suggestions for making these appointments and protecting yourself and your wishes.
Consider what will be expected of them
There are different responsibilities that substitute decision-makers will take on. Someone with financial power of attorney will manage your financial affairs and have access to all your accounts.
A medical substitute decision-maker (or SDM) will have the authority to decide on your medical and personal care.
These are different roles with different expectations. Thus, it would be wise to select parties who are familiar with these areas and people who truly understand what you want.
Keep in mind, too, that these parties may be making decisions during an otherwise painful and combative time. A difficult medical diagnosis, a sudden loss of capacity and conflict among loved ones can all be factors. As such, people in these roles should be able to handle stressful situations effectively and diplomatically.
Talk to your decision-makers
To ensure your proxy or SDM understands what they may be responsible for and what you want them to do, make sure you talk to them ahead of time.
This conversation can be a little uncomfortable, but it gives them the opportunity to ask questions, and it allows you to share with them your priorities, wishes and expectations.
Give them help
No matter who you ultimately choose as your decision-makers, you can provide valuable support and guidance for them by creating a will as part of a comprehensive estate plan.
The will, along with other pertinent documents, can make delays and legal complications less likely. It can also minimize contests or questions that can arise from other parties.
Ideally, you will not need someone to make decisions on your behalf. However, knowing that you have selected capable, compassionate parties to do so if necessary can give you and your loved ones peace of mind.