Lifetime and health planning

Lifetime and Health Planning

Planning for financial and healthcare well-being needs to be more than checking some boxes on various forms.

Disability Planning

Careful wealth planning includes disability planning. Unlike a will, which is a document that is unlikely to be needed in an emergency, powers of attorney should be in the hands of your loved ones in advance of any disability, to allow them make critical financial and healthcare decisions for you should you be unable to do so yourself.

Major changes to the law in the first decade of the 21st century made a planning update mandatory for most people. In Pennsylvania, the law requires special language at the front and back of such documents to give your agent notice of their responsibility to act honorably and to acknowledge that they understand this responsibility. Language is also required to satisfy the federal "HIPAA" statute [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996].

If you have a Living Trust, it should also contain a HIPAA clause, as well as language appointing a Disability Panel when appropriate. A Trust Protector provision might also be useful to keep your trust doing what it was designed to do in unlikely situations which nevertheless do occur.

Living Wills

Most people include a living will in their plan to avoid difficulties at the end-stage of terminal illness. The importance of a living will was brought home to many of us in the Terry Schiavo case. Such situations can be prevented by allowing family members and doctors to act humanely when their loved ones concur.

The official Pennsylvania form of living includes detailed selections for various medical treatments you do or do not want to receive in certain situations. An alternative form many clients prefer is called a "guidelines" living will, which allows you to leave critical decisions about medical treatment up to your healthcare agent. You can state that you don't want futile medical treatment, but you'll let your healthcare agent decide what's appropriate when the situation arises and after consultation with the medical staff. Still other clients wish to include specific palliative care measures like massage or having poetry read to them by family.

Famed heart surgeon Michael E. DeBakey pioneered a procedure designed to prevent fatal aortic aneurisms. At age 97, DeBakey had a life-threatening problem that his own surgical procedure could fix. But he had signed a "standard form" directing that he not be resuscitated if his heart stopped and a note in the chart saying "No Surgery." A careful reading of his documents might have revealed that the form was prefaced by the phrase: "If I am terminally ill with no reasonable prospect of recovery," then I want no surgery. In the face of an emergency, medical staff may not read beyond the part about "no surgery"...

At the time, Dr. DeBakey was not terminally ill with no reasonable prospect of recovery, so he was able to make his own decisions. But his documents could have stood in his doctors' way. [Read the full story...]

Whatever your preferences for how you wish to be treated, it is important to lay them out in advance. We can help you with your financial and healthcare decision-making as part of your overall plan.