Planning to Get Older – Documents to Consider When You Are Incapacitated

To paraphrase the well-known adage, few things in life are certain aside from the fact that we are getting older.  From the moment we are born, we are dying.   Thinking about life’s end should not be seen as a morbid topic, but simply dealing with a fact of life.

There are a number of legal documents that you can use to empower others when you are incapacitated.  Four of the most common are highlighted below, along with their pluses and minuses.  This is an overview.  No formal decisions should be taken without consulting an attorney who is competent in elder law and planning matters.


Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare/Healthcare Proxy

The benefit of the DPAHC is that it allows your representative to act on your behalf and make medical decisions based on current circumstances.   In general, your representative can make any decision that you’d be allowed to make about your care, and can be used any time you are incompetent.   The disadvantage of this document is that your representative must be present to act on your behalf, so it may not be practical in an emergency.


Durable Power of Attorney

The second type of Power of Attorney is one for business matters.  It gives a designated person the authority to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf.  The DPOA is a straightforward document that is low cost and reduces the chance that the courts may intervene in issues involving your property and assets.

DPOAs have few downsides aside from the fact that each state has varying rules surrounding them.  Some states, for example, do not permit a DPOA to take effect after you become incapacitated, which is one of the main reasons you might want to have one.


Living Will

Everyone should have a living will, which sets forth your desires about medical treatment when you are no longer able to provide informed consent.  The advantage of the Living Will is that it does not depend on a chosen individual to carry out your wishes.  Rather, it provides instructions to your all your doctors so they know what to do in extreme situations.   The limitation of the Living Will is that it generally applies only if you are terminally ill or in a permanent vegetative state,  and is typically used for decisions regarding life-sustaining interventions.


Do Not Resuscitate

The point of the DNR is for you to decline CPR if your heart or breathing fails.  It is appropriate for anyone who feels they are near life’s end and that resuscitation would have little sense in the grand scheme of things.  It helps avoid what many people feel are unpleasant, unnecessary and costly medical interventions.  The downside of the DNR is that is a limited, focused tool that is often further restricted by the specific laws in your state.

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About the Author:

Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.

They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.

Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.

Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones.  He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio.  He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.

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