I was contacted by someone who wanted to guest-post on my blog in regards to legal documents that a terminally ill patient ought to get in order. That is a very important issue, and so I agreed to host an article. Below is the article, which I think contains very helpful information for anyone, really, because no one knows when or how they are going to die. Please note that this is not an endorsement of any particular company or individual mentioned hereafter.
5 Essential Legal Documents for Breast Cancer Patients
By Ann Cosimano, ARAG’s General Counsel
When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the most important things you can do is educate yourself about the legal aspect of health care decisions. You’ll want to make sure you have all the necessary legal documents in place so that your medical wishes are clearly laid out for your medical team and your family.
Sometime in the next few weeks, for Breast Cancer Awareness month, take time to learn about these five legal documents every cancer patient should understand have in place.
1. Health care power of attorney
What is a health care power of attorney?
A health care power of attorney is a document in which you designate an individual – your “agent” – to make medical decisions on behalf of you, the patient. This decision-making power is limited to periods of time when you’re unable to make and communicate decisions on your own.
Why is a health care power of attorney necessary?
Without a designated representative, decision-making authority is determined by state law. This means that treatment and care decisions may be left to groups of people, such as children and siblings, or to individuals with whom you no longer communicate.
What else do I need to know about a health care power of attorney?
Although it may sound like a logical choice, your doctor can’t be your agent. But the person who is designated health care power of attorney can talk with your doctor for medical guidance. The health care power of attorney document only applies when you’re incapable of making and communicating your decisions. When able, you can amend or revoke the power of attorney.
2. HIPAA representative
What is a HIPAA representative?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that helps protect the privacy of patients. Doctors, hospitals, health care providers and insurance companies are required to follow HIPAA rules. This means they can only share medical information with the patient or the patient’s personal representative, as dictated by this document.
Why is a HIPAA representative necessary?
Without this document, your caregivers may find themselves without access to your medical and insurance information. This is especially true if the caregiver isn’t related to you. When your caregiver can’t access treatment details, it can make patient support for necessary care such as chemotherapy and radiation difficult.
What else do I need to know about a HIPAA representative?
A health care power of attorney is considered a HIPAA authorization, but it’s limited to the periods of time when you’re unable to make and communicate health care decisions. A separate HIPAA authorization ensures access during other situations.
3. Living will
What is a living will?
A living will (also known as an advance directive) details your wishes regarding end-of-life care. This document goes into effect when you are in an end-of-live situation such as having a terminal condition or are permanently unconscious and you’re incapable of making your own decisions.
Why is a living will necessary?
Without a written directive, life-sustaining treatment will continue when you can’t make decisions for yourself — even if the treatment and procedures go against your wishes.
What else do I need to know about living wills?
Each state has its own laws regarding living wills. State laws may allow living wills to include directions on artificially provided food or hydration, end-of-life decisions addressing life-extending or life-saving treatment, pain medication, consent to an autopsy, organ donation and disposition of bodily remains.
4. Durable power of attorney
What is a durable power of attorney?
A durable power of attorney names an individual to manage your financial and personal affairs. This document allows your agent access to financial accounts and gives him or her decision-making authority.
Why is a durable power of attorney necessary?
You might want help managing your finances while you’re receiving treatment or hospitalized. Common needs include access to bank accounts to pay bills and care for children.
What else do I need to know about a durable power of attorney?
There are limits to the authority of this power. Your agent cannot change your will, various types of trusts or designated beneficiaries of life insurance policies and other assets.
5. Last will and testament
What is a last will and testament?
A last will and testament is a document that outlines final directions for who will receive your assets, real estate and personal property when you die. The will also identifies a person (executor) to carry out your orders and a person (guardian) to care for any children under the age of 18.
Why is a last will and testament necessary?
Without a will, state courts will determine what happens to your assets, possessions and children. This is why creating a will is so important — for everyone.
What else do I need to know about last wills and testaments?
A will can be changed and updated as life changes. As children grow or your health improves, the will can either be revised (with an addition called a codicil) or a new will can be created to reflect new situations.
Talking about these vital documents can be difficult. No one wants to focus on worst-case scenarios. But these important legal documents are a way to make sure you are in control and can rest assured that your wishes are followed, no matter what happens.
Ann Cosimano, ARAG’s General Counsel, directs the company's legal, regulatory, compliance and attorney relations departments. ARAG is a leading provider of legal insurance giving people and their family confidence and protection to handle life’s legal issues. ARAG partners with attorneys to provide essential legal services ranging from writing wills to representing clients in a lawsuit. Ann can be reached via e-mail at Ann.Cosimano@ARAGlegal.com.