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Powers of attorney - more than just a side-note in an estate plan

There are times in life, perhaps in some of our Michigan readers' lives, when a tragedy will bring family members together. An unfortunate situation, such as a car accident or a prolonged terminal illness, can lead to family members gathering at the hospital, hoping for bits of news from doctors and asking themselves what they can do to help. In the most dire of situations, health care professionals may approach the family members for a decision on what course of medical treatment should be rendered. If the incapacitated person is without the right kind of power of attorney, those moments could lead to fractious and fruitless discussions amongst the family members.

A recent article has highlighted the need for an extremely detailed medical power of attorney within a comprehensive estate plan. In Michigan, one of the most crucial - but often overlooked - parts of estate planning is to designate a patient advocate. The patient advocate's role will be invoked if the need should arise for medical decisions to be made and the planner is without the power or capacity to make the decisions on their own.

This doesn't necessarily mean that an accident victim's family members couldn't discuss all of the available options when it comes to medical treatment. However, it would provide the appointed person with the final say in the matter - someone to break the deadlock if family members cannot agree.

This type of power of attorney signifies to the other family members that the planner has chosen that particular person as the one they trust with the final decision to carry out their wishes. However, one part of this plan that can't be put on paper is this: talking to family members about the designation. Talk about what it means, why that person was chosen and what types of medical treatments are either desired or unwanted. Doing so could save a family that is already struggling with a tragic situation from having to make the call on what type of treatment the planner would want.

Source: INDYSTAR.COM, "David Orentlicher: Patients, family have discretion about end of life care," David Orentlicher, Jan. 18, 2013

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