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COVID-19 Estate Planning

By Jon D. Madison

The anxiety surrounding COVID-19 has led many people to consider estate planning, specifically advance directives to guide health care decision making. Many people haven’t previously thought about who will make health care decisions for them if they are unable to express their wishes. Properly executed advance directives clear up any uncertainty about health care decisions.

Indiana’s Health Care Consent Act permits the appointment of a health care representative. The appointment has to be in writing, signed by you and witnessed by another adult (other than the representative). It is only used when you cannot make your own necessary health care decisions. While there are many types of advance directives, this is a primary document everyone should consider.

You can better inform your appointed health care representative of your end-of-life wishes by executing a Living Will or Life Prolonging Procedures Declaration. You should only execute one of these two documents. By signing a Living Will, you are stating you only want comfort care if a doctor believes your death will occur in a short time due to a terminal condition. The choice you make on the form is whether or not you want artificially supplied food and water during your remaining days.¬† The Life Prolonging Procedures Declaration indicates you want to receive any procedure (including receiving food and water) to keep you alive even if your condition is deemed terminal. Executing one of these documents will help guide your health care representative’s decision making.

Another common advance directive is a health care power of attorney. A power of attorney document names a representative (or attorney-in-fact) to handle certain tasks on your behalf. Some power of attorney documents may be broadly drafted to include both financial and health care powers. A document including health care powers may allow not only health care decision making, but may allow your named attorney-in-fact to handle other tasks relating to health care. These tasks might include entering into contracts for health care services, accessing medical records, or admitting you into a medical facility.

Other advance directives have important applications for certain situations. These include an out of hospital do not resuscitate order, psychiatric advance directive, and physician orders for scope of treatment (POST). You should specifically discuss these three documents with your physician prior to execution.

If you don’t have any written advance directive, Indiana law permits family members to make health care decisions for you. Your spouse, adult children, parents, siblings, or a court¬≠ appointed representative may be called upon to act. Family relationships can become strained in stressful situations. A written advance directive making your wishes known may be an invaluable gift to your loved ones.

The Indiana State Department of Health provides standard forms and additional information on their website. A direct link to the advance directive section is provided for convenience: https://www.in.gov/isdh/25880.htm. Here, you can review and download many of the documents mentioned above.

While it is possible to complete basic forms without legal help, there is no substitute for working with an experienced attorney. Each of these documents have specific uses and execution requirements to be valid. Your attorney will recommend which documents you need and will help customize documents to better fit your personal situation.

If you don’t have a relationship with an attorney, the professionals of DeFur Voran LLP stand ready to assist you. We have offices in Muncie, Fishers and New Castle, and offer a full range of estate planning seruices. Please contact any one of our offices to schedule a consultation.

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