Mark Harvey — This is your life

I know: Last week was a long time ago. Here’s where we stopped:

“Who will do all the stuff that needs to be done, if/when I can’t do it?”

The assignment was to make a list of what that “stuff” is. It seems to me that the “stuff” comes down to three things:

1. Medical decisions, in case you can’t make your own;

2. Long-term care/help at home, and…

3. …Money!

One crisis at a time. So, here’s where we start: Medical decisions.

And here’s the absolute bottom-line, no matter what: As long as you can speak for yourself, you can speak for yourself, unless a durable power of attorney or a guardianship is in place because you can no longer follow the bouncing ball sufficiently to speak (intelligently) for yourself.

The most common scenario in my world is dementia/Alzheimer’s, but it could be massively disabling stroke, or any number of other things. In other words, it’s been determined that someone else needs to call the shots — OK. And if you stop and think about it, that makes sense: Do you really want to be in a position of making rather significant decisions when you’re in no condition to make significant decisions? No, you don’t.

But for most of us, most of the time, as long as we are physically able to speak for ourselves, we are the unquestioned authority on us, regardless of what documents or whatnot are sitting in the third desk drawer down, on the left.

And we can certainly change our minds! Maybe you were feeling pretty good and pretty strong when you drew up that “advance directive,” and couldn’t imagine wanting heroic measures, so that’s what that document says. BUT, now something has happened and we’re in serious trouble and feeling seriously scared in a seriously scary place (think, hospital), and we’re thinking, “DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN!”

That’s fine — It’s your call.

So, all the documents and legal structures are designed to speak for you, IF you can’t speak for yourself. Let’s start with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. When you grant someone a power-of-attorney, you’re giving someone the legal authority to act on your behalf, e.g. sell something that belongs to you, but it could be considerably more “sweeping” than that.

A power-of-attorney (POA) is predicated on the fact that you understand what you’re doing by granting that POA; in other words, “informed consent.” If anything brings that “informed consent” into question (think, dementia), it is IMMEDIATELY invalid! Makes sense, right?

A DURABLE power-of-attorney (DPOA) “endures” such an unwelcome event; so, many DPOA’s are written such that they don’t even kick in UNTIL you can no longer make your own decisions, get it? So, if/when you can’t call your own shots, you’ve already given someone else the authority to do it for you (with a few exceptions, which we won’t belabor here), when you were still able to grant “informed consent.” OK so far?

That “someone” is usually a spouse, or the kid(s), but it doesn’t have to be. It could be an old friend or a shirttail relative or your first husband’s daughter, who you never actually adopted but think the world of, or … Anyone you want!

And who will agree to do it.

And there are usually back-ups written into the document; so, my spouse is my first choice, but if she can’t do it, I want it to be my middle son, etc. Get it? And you probably want to pick people who are pretty likely to know what you want (and DON’T want) and actually make tough decisions if necessary, so the decisions they might have to make on your behalf would be pretty darned close to the ones you’d make.

A key piece of a DPOA could be granting the authority to make healthcare decisions for you, if you can’t make your own. Or it could be an entirely separate document, either way works.

AND, you could have different people making decisions about different things, e.g., I want my younger brother to make the health care decisions, but I want my sister to make the financial decisions. Sometimes, those kinds of arrangements can lead to some … entertaining family dynamics, but you can do it, and people often do.

So, you need to think through — VERY carefully! — who you want making what decisions, then, have serious conversations with those folks, then have the legal documents drawn-up.

Are there entities/agencies/businesses who will take on these rather daunting responsibilities, if there is absolutely no one in your life to do it, or as a back-up to the one person you do have? Yes. Will you pay for that? Of course! Will I tell you who they are? No, and here’s why:

I’m correctly forbidden from “recommending” any agency, business or professional to do anything! I say “correctly” because, as smart and ethical as I obviously am, my biases would still be my biases, and your life shouldn’t proceed on my biases, so call any of the numbers at the end of this column and decent people will give you a list.

But before you leap to doing this-or-that, take the time to think this through: What are you really wanting to do? What problem are you wanting to solve, and what would that “solution” look like, if you could have it your way?

And how would your life look (and how would it work) if you had that solution?

Sit still and think it through; better yet, do it out-loud with someone you trust. You might find out that what you want (or don’t want) makes some of these decisions a lot clearer. This is your life, not a crossword puzzle, so there’s more to this than just solving problems.

This is your life.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.


Rules for posting comments