You may want to consult an attorney, who specializes in powers of attorney, estate planning, Medicare and Medicaid issues, insurance disputes and related concerns. But remember: These aren't just concerns for the elderly; you need to handle these issues even if your family member is a young adult. Among other things, the attorney can help you execute two important legal documents:
- Durable power of attorney. At some point, your family member or friend may be unable to make his or her own decisions. Durable power of attorney appoints a trustee to make financial and legal decisions on his or her behalf. One caveat: The person must be competent to assign power of attorney. So, if your relative or friend already suffers from serious dementia, it's too late. Then it is necessary to seek guardianship or other ways to legally make decisions for the person. Powers of attorney may not necessarily prevent your relative from using bad judgment and acting on his own, but it does permit a surrogate to act in his behalf.
- Durable power of attorney for health care. Also called a health care proxy or medical power of attorney, this process enables your relative or friend to select someone to make healthcare decisions on his or her behalf. The proxy goes into effect only when the patient can no longer make such decisions; until then, he or she must give consent for medical treatment.