While hospice treatment can, in rare cases, go on for years, the patient is dealing with a terminal illness and should get their affairs in order. While some of the recommended steps many not be necessary for everyone, it is important to meet with a qualified elder law attorney to determine what action you should take in your particular situation.
Powers of attorney: This is perhaps one of the most important things for an individual enrolled in hospice care to have in place. A power of attorney gives someone the legal authority to make decision for you if you cannot make decisions for yourself at some time in the future. Having a power of attorney is crucial when your loved one is in hospice, since their health may deteriorate to the point where they can no longer communicate their wishes. There are two types of recommended powers of attorney:
- A health care power of attorney allows someone to make decisions for you concerning doctors, hospitals and medication. No matter how long you have been married to a spouse or how close you are to a loved one, if you have not given them authority to act as your power of attorney, then they will not have the ability to act on your behalf unless they go through the court and begin a costly legal process to be named guardian.
- A financial power of attorney covers a broad range of situations from handling real estate, bank accounts, paying taxes and anything else related to finances. It is crucial to have an appropriate financial power of attorney in place. Just like a health care power of attorney, family members and loved ones have no actual authority unless a financial power of attorney is in place.
Revising wills and trusts: Whenever a major life event occurs, it is recommended that you review your wills and trusts as your current legal document may no longer be appropriate. For example, many wills are set up to leave everything to the spouse and then at the death of the second spouse, to the children. This may be the wrong way to set up your will now considering one spouse’s illness. It may be better to arrange things so that if the “healthy spouse” passes away first, the assets can be placed in a trust to benefit the spouse in hospice or passed down to the children to protect those assets from Medicaid. This where an experienced elder law attorney is critical.
Changing property titles: The way your real estate is titled can be extremely important. In some cases, if real estate is not handled properly now, then dealing with property later could require going to court. Revising property titles now assures family members are protected if the illness requires long term care in a nursing home.
Strategies for financial gifts: It is extremely important to consult a knowledgeable attorney before transferring any property or making any gifts. Making gifts can protect your family and save your estate, but acting improperly can have severe legal consequences and make you ineligible for government benefits.