Amid COVID-19, Now’s A Good Time To Plan For Medical Emergencies, End-Of-Life

Though the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, claiming lives, infecting thousands more and altering social and economic landscapes, the number of people planning ahead with health care instructions doesn’t seem to have changed.
Attorneys, whose practices include estate planning and wills, said they hadn’t really seen big increases in demand for creating advance directives for health care. They spoke anecdotally about a month into Indiana’s stay-at-home order and travel restrictions.
But attorneys and doctors recommend having such documents in place, at any age, in case of a situation or emergency where a patient can’t articulate medical treatment choices for themselves. The directives can also state who a patient wants making health care decisions for them.
“Usually in the medical situations, it’s important to have an advocate – somebody who’s willing to be proactive, contacting doctors and nurses and whoever they can, and to find out what the situation is and what the options are,” said attorney Denise Connell with the Jackson County law firm Lorenzo Bevers Braman & Connell. “It’s like anything else, there’s options on what to do. And that’s what a health care directive does: it appoints someone to help choose those options.”
The firm provides wills, estate planning and bankruptcy services from their office in Seymour. She said she hadn’t seen much of an uptick in calls for advance directives.
She speculated demand for advance directives probably hasn’t risen because residents have had to address more immediate concerns, including, for many, employment and financial issues.
“‘Am I employed? Can I pay for groceries this week? Can I pay rent?’ That type of thing. It’s probably further down, they just haven’t thought about it,” Connell said.
A certain level of fear might also play into it. Some might not want to risk a face-to-face meeting. Others might have a more innate superstition about confronting death.
“One of the problems with doing a will is people don’t want to think about that, and so they don’t really want to get prepared,” Connell said. “And the more scared they are, the less they want to do something because they think they’re like tempting fate or something.”
“Nobody, even now, people don’t think they’re going to die from COVID-19, just like you don’t think you’re going to die next week in an automobile accident. But, things happen, and you should do appropriate planning to address those risks,” She said. “And with regard to health care decisions and powers of attorney and those kinds of things, people don’t want to think about being a situation where they are incapacitated.”
But attorneys will accommodate needs for social distancing during the planning process, from appointments to signing documents.
But the key, the attorneys and doctors agree, is to first discuss arrangements in advance directives with loved ones chosen to serve as a patient’s health care representatives – those appointed to make decisions for medical care and carry out wishes if the patient is unable.
Having such a plan in place, naming a health care power of attorney, now can save on future legal or family headaches if a patient is unable to speak for themselves. Without a directive, state law takes over with a general list of who’s in charge of making decisions, which can become murky or lead to family disputes.
“You’d be subject to whatever the statute says. And that dictates who in priority can make medical decisions for you,” Connell said. “It’s good to have, especially in these times that we have.”
The directives also provide a road map for health care providers. They get a clearer understanding of patient goals in end-of-life situations, such as, whether one would want to go on dialysis or feeding tubes, or even whether one wants nothing done.