Planning Matters: An Important Reminder For Caregivers on National Healthcare Decisions Day

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Mar 31 2023.

Planning Matters: An Important Reminder For Caregivers on National Healthcare Decisions Day

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), a holiday that “exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.”

NHDD was created in 2008 by healthcare lawyer Nathan Kottkamp after he realized there was little public information available about healthcare decision-making. He founded NHDD with the goal of providing  “simple, free, and uniform tools (not just forms) to guide the process.” 

To learn more about the importance of advance care planning, we reached out to Michael McClernon, a certified senior care advisor, and the owner of Assisted Living Locators Long Island in Long Island, New York. 

What Is a Healthcare Proxy?

A healthcare proxy, or healthcare power of attorney, is a legal document that names someone you trust (like a friend or family member) as your personal representative.

If you become too sick or incapacitated to make healthcare decisions on your own, your proxy makes them for you.

Who Should Have a Healthcare Proxy?

Anyone who is legally an adult should have a healthcare proxy. Even if your loved ones are in good health currently, it’s crucial to plan for the future.

“In my own circle of acquaintances, there was a college student badly injured in a car accident. Because there was no healthcare proxy, the parents didn’t get a vote about care and they even had trouble accessing information,” McClernon said. 

A healthcare proxy can clear up what can be a dangerous situation and make it possible for a trusted person to make thoughtful decisions about care –– decisions that are hopefully informed by a long and intimate relationship with the senior. A healthcare proxy is also able to enforce the terms of a living will or Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST).”

What Other Documents Are Needed For Advanced Care Planning?

Excellent question! 

McClernon says most eldercare attorneys believe every adult should have certain core advanced planning documents. Most of these papers are only used when people are older (75+), but it’s important to draft them nonetheless. 

Make sure your loved one has the following:

  • Health Care Proxy (sometimes called a Healthcare Power of Attorney)

  • Living Will (also called an Advanced Health Directive)

  • Power of Attorney (for financial and legal matters)

  • A Will

  • A Revocable Living Will

  • Irrevocable Trust (also called a Medicaid Trust)

You can help your loved ones out even more by drafting:

  • Burial instructions (if you can afford it, a prepaid burial is a good thing, too)

  • A Portable Medical Order (POLST) or MOLST

“A POLST tells medical personnel in no uncertain terms what can and should be done, and what not to do,” McClernon said.

Caregiver Tip

Ask your loved one to collect all of their relevant financial documents, including tax returns, pension info, stock info, active loans, and car titles. Make sure they also provide login information and passwords for each of their accounts.

Can I Draft a Healthcare Proxy On My Own?

You can draft a healthcare proxy on your own, but it’s possible to avoid common mistakes and save yourself some hassle by working with an eldercare attorney.

“An attorney can execute a healthcare proxy readily,” McClernon said. “They can help you understand the legal implications, draft the document according to your state’s laws, and ensure that it’s properly executed.”

Unable to afford a lawyer? That’s perfectly ok!

“Healthcare proxies can be downloaded and completed from a number of different websites,” McClernon said. “These sites produce a document tailored to your state’s unique requirements. They’re just as effective as traditional proxies and are typically accepted by most medical authorities.”

When Should I Talk to My Loved One About Advanced Care Planning?

The best time to talk with your loved one about advanced care planning is now. Preparing for the future isn’t expecting the worst –– it’s setting yourself up for success should an illness or injury occur. 

“Often, the ‘do it for us kids’ argument gets parents to buckle down and describe exactly what they want to be done when they become sick or very fragile,” McClernon said. “I’ve found that most seniors want to leave a clean and organized legal and financial picture for their loved ones.”

National Healthcare Decisions Day Resources

Ready to talk with your loved one about advanced care planning? Here are some excellent resources to help get the conversation started:

The Conversation Project - NHDD

The Five Wishes Living Will: End of Life Planning Made Simple

Understanding Power of Attorney Limitations

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.