Emergency ContactThis weekend's Wall Street Journal has an interesting story on choosing an emergency contact. In this case, the emergency contact is someone for the writer to put down when they go to places like the doctor's office. When she first came to America and had to list an emergency contact on college forums and on other places where it's asked, what the author realized is, when she first got here, that her contact that you use for all these her mother was actually overseas, and not someone who would be easily contacted in the case of an emergency.

This parallels with one of the most important documents that you should have in your estate planning arsenal, which is your healthcare power of attorney. An emergency contact is someone that the doctor or person you're dealing with will call in the case of an emergency, an agent on your health care power of attorney is much more in-depth. This is a person who will be empowered to make major medical decisions for you.

An Emergency Contact

In the case of this story, the writer described how the emergency contact should be someone who

  • Knows you
  • Knows your medical history, and
  • Knows how to contact your family.

These are all pretty basic things for emergency contact to know

Healthcare Power of Attorney

In my practice, we deal with a next-level version of an emergency contact. This is a health care agent, operating under a health care power of attorney. The healthcare power of attorney is a 9 or 10-page document that lays out who you would like to be making important medical decisions for you in case you become incapacitated. Beyond just your spouse, or someone close to you, we will often name a few other backup agents as well.

The common scenario we discuss is if you and your spouse are in a medical emergency of some type, like a car accident, and you're each other's healthcare agent, we have somebody else who can then make decisions for you in case both of you are incapacitated. Beyond just appointing an agent, the healthcare power of attorney also will list out the various powers that your healthcare agent will have. It will lay out things like,

  • Medical evaluations and treatment;
  • Longterm or Hospice Care;
  • Whether you want to stay in your home;
  • Pain relief;
  • Organ donation; and
  • Autopsies.

So just like an emergency contact, it's important that you have a healthcare agent who is reachable, in case of an emergency, but also who understands your wishes and a bit about your medical history.

If there's anything the last couple of years have taught us, it's the importance of having a healthcare agent to make decisions in case something happens to you. For years now, the news has been filled with people who are unfortunately intubated or otherwise unable to speak for themselves in the medical context and need somebody to be able to make major medical decisions for them. You don't want to be in that situation and have the doctor or the healthcare professional, not be able to contact the right person to speak on your behalf.

So if that's the case you find yourself in if you don't have a healthcare power of attorney, it's not a complex form, but it's a very important form that should be part of your estate plan.

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Next Steps

If you don't have a healthcare power of attorney, or if yours was drafted back when we were all worried about the Y2K bug, then let's set up a Legal Strategy Session to discuss the best options for you.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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