Benefits, responsibilities of a power of attorney

Joan Hatem-Roy

Q: Years ago, my parents met with an attorney to put their home and financial assets in a trust. I was named my mother's health care power of attorney if my father became incapable of acting on her behalf. I didn't give this much thought until my father died. Now, my mother is 95 years old, has dementia, and is described as "failure to thrive.” I’m conflicted about how aggressive to be when she faces new medical concerns. How do I decide what to do in the future?

A: A well-crafted power of attorney document should clearly state your mother's wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment. Rely on that document to guide you as you discuss your mother’s deteriorating health with a physician.

Take comfort that you will be following instructions your mother expressed when she was lucid and able to consider these complex, highly sensitive matters. The choices she made were most likely based on her values and religious beliefs.

Dilemmas arise when death is not necessarily expected but treatment could impact a person’s health and ability to function. You should be sure that any physician or hospital where your mother obtains care possesses a copy of the power of attorney document.

You have the right and responsibility to discuss all treatments proposed for your mother. Try to determine whether receiving the appropriate treatment will allow her to attain a reasonable recovery. Assess too how easy or difficult these procedures will be for her to endure. Be sure to get answers to all your questions.

Often, the quality of life that healthcare procedures make possible can be the driving force in assessing such decisions.

Acting as an advocate for a loved one is seldom easy. It can be emotional and leave you questioning your judgment. Remember your mother trusted you to act on her behalf, chose you to assist her in times exactly like these.

You may find it helpful to discuss your situation with friends or relatives who have had similar experiences as well as to seek legal advice from an attorney who specializes in these matters.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email ageinfo@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

 

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