Preparing for Coronavirus: The #1 Legal Document Every Adult Should Have

Category: COVID-19 Updates

By Hertz Schram

As the coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life and leave Americans uncertain of the future, you don’t have to feel helpless during this pandemic. In fact, now is a great time to be proactive and plan ahead should you or a loved one fall ill. One of the most important and relatively easy things you can do (and should do) is to select a patient advocate and set up your advance healthcare directive.

WHAT IS A PATIENT ADVOCATE?

A patient advocate (also called a healthcare agent, healthcare surrogate, a healthcare proxy, or a medical proxy) is a person you authorize in a Designation of Patient Advocate document to make decisions about your medical care if you are too ill to make them yourself or are otherwise unable to communicate your wishes. An advance directive is a statement concerning how you want to be cared for if you are unable to express yourself. For example, do you want a DNR order.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DO THIS?

These issues are always important and should be attended to but as of April 7, there are 391,665 total cases of coronavirus. Of those, only 9,169 are in critical condition (about 2.34%). So even if you get sick, you’ll most likely have mild symptoms and recover quickly. However, because no one knows exactly how they will be affected by the virus, it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Part of that planning is making sure someone can make healthcare decisions for you if you fall ill and are unable to make those decisions for yourself.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN CHOOSING YOUR PATIENT ADVOCATE

A patient advocate is an important role, and the person you choose will have the power to make critical healthcare decisions—like consenting to a treatment plan, whether to accept or refuse medical treatment, and which healthcare providers or hospitals to use for your care. As a result, it is crucial to think carefully about who you choose to fill this role. Many people simply assume that their spouse or their oldest child should take on this role, but they are not always the best suited. Here are some factors to consider when selecting an agent:

1) Emotional maturity. People handle stress differently, and not everyone is able to set aside their emotions and make level-headed decisions when someone they love is suffering. In addition, some people are simply not assertive enough to act as a strong advocate in the face of differing opinions of other family members–or even health care providers–who suggest a treatment plan you have informed your medical agent you do not want. You should choose someone who is able to think rationally in emotionally difficult circumstances, even if that means you must look outside of your family to find the best person for the job.

2) Location. The person you choose to act as your medical agent should be someone who lives close by and is able to act on your behalf very quickly in the event of a medical emergency or if you need your advocate to serve in that role for an extended time period. In current times, many people might be under a mandatory or recommended stay-at-home order or may not be available or willing to travel to another city or state.  Consider naming several alternate agents to account for someone’s potential unavailability.

3) Is willing/able to serve. Acting as a patient advocate can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining job. Make sure that the person you choose is willing and able to set aside the time necessary to serve as your patient advocate. Don’t just assume the person you want to be your patient advocate is willing: Be proactive and ask if he or she is willing to take on that role. Under Michigan law, before a patient advocate can act, he or she must sign an acceptance of the patient advocate designation. Keep in mind when selecting your patient advocate that if you are elderly, you may want to avoid naming a friend or family member who also is older, as there is a greater chance that they will experience mental or physical decline at the same time as you, which could impede their ability to serve as your advocate when the time comes.

4) Will honor your wishes no matter what. Your patient advocate has a duty to make decisions on your behalf that you would have made to the extent that he or she is aware of your wishes. This is the case even if your patient advocate disagrees with your choices. As a result, your patient advocate needs to be someone who is willing to set aside his or her own opinions and wishes to carry out yours. It may be prudent to appoint someone who has values and religious beliefs that are similar to yours to reduce the instances in which your advocate’s opinions differ significantly from yours. Do not choose anyone that you do not trust to carry out your wishes.

PEOPLE YOU SHOULD NOT CHOOSE

Michigan law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from acting as your patient advocate, even if they are otherwise well-qualified to act in that role.

NEED HELP?

A Designation of Patient Advocate and an Advanced Directive may be among the most important legal documents you sign – especially in light of COVID-19. Picking a patient advocate can be tricky and Hertz Schram’s Estate Planning team can help you think through your choice. We can also help with any other estate planning needs you may have—whether that’s setting up a power of attorney, last will and testament, or a trust. Please give us a call today to discuss how we can help you and your family to be prepared should you fall ill from the coronavirus:

Richard Schloss        248-230-2699         rschloss@hertzschram.com  

Jeffrey Robbins        248-230-2722          jrobbins@hertzschram.com

Laurie Raab             248-636-1566            lraab@hertzschram.com

We encourage you to reach out with any questions or if you have any other business or personal needs, please contact the Hertz Schram legal team at (248) 335-5000 if you would like to learn more about your legal rights and options.     

Hoping all of you and your families stay healthy and SAFE during this crisis.

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