By Anthony A. Saccaro, ChFC:
On December 5, 2011, my life changed forever when my father Leonard had a massive stroke. Within an hour, I was at the hospital. One of the first questions the nursing staff asked was, “Do you have an Advance Healthcare Directive?”
Fortunately for our family, the answer was “Yes.”
Although it has always been important in setting up a sound estate plan, the Advance Healthcare Directive became critical in 2003 when HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), commonly referred to as “privacy laws,” were updated. These laws made it illegal for doctors and other medical professionals to release medical information about a patient to anyone other than the patient—including the spouse and adult children! Doctors can be fined or jailed for violating these laws.
Since I often speak publicly about the importance of the Advance Healthcare Directive, and I strongly encourage my clients to establish them, I followed my own advice and had these documents drafted for my parents, as well as for me and my wife, Anca.
So when I arrived at the hospital that December day, I brought my father’s Advance Healthcare Directive with me, to the nurses’ amazement. I am very thankful that I was never denied information about my father’s condition, as he was unresponsive and unable to make his own decisions.
In the weeks to come, this document helped me beyond just allowing me to exchange information with his doctors. It allowed me to:
- keep other relatives from making decisions that my father would not have wanted
- safeguard my father’s personal belongings
- ask the doctors to change my father’s medication when he had a bad reaction
- send him to the rehabilitation center of our choice when he needed therapy
- complete the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) forms to indicate that he did not want life support
- change my father’s health insurance to a plan that was more suitable for his condition
- relocate him to another hospital when the current one provided terrible service
- place my father on hospice care, based on doctor’s recommendations
- choose our preferred hospice care provider
- select a facility to provide 24-hour home care during hospice
- handle my father’s remains as he requested after he passed away.
What a nightmare it would have been if I wasn’t able to make these decisions! If I had not helped my father set up his Advance Healthcare Directive back in 2005, that is exactly what would have happened.
Without this document, the only way to gain the authority he wanted me to have would have been to go to court, contend with the other family members and let the judge decide who would make these decisions. This is obviously the last thing I would have felt like doing while my father lay helpless in the hospital.
Upon his passing, his other estate planning documents, such as his Will and Living Trust, have made settling his estate much simpler since there will be no probate. Losing a parent is one of the most difficult, emotional events in one’s life. I am grateful that my father didn’t add salt to the wound by making our family deal with the court system.
If you or your children (18 years and older) do not have an Advance Healthcare Directive, or if you have one that was drafted before 2004, please contact us or a local estate planning professional to help you establish or update this critical document. You and your loved ones will be glad you did when the time comes.