New Risks to Family Cohesiveness Continued!

airplane oxygen imageImpact to individual goals and life plans by the increasing lifespan of baby-boomer generation. Take the Steps Now to Put the Oxygen Over Your Own Face First and Decide Who Will Make Your Health and Financial Decisions If You Are Unable To Do So.

Another risk to family cohesiveness is the impact increased lifespan has on individual goals and life plans. Traditional risks include the illness, death or incapacity of a key family figure. In the family business and in the co-ownership of investment and commercial assets, the new risk is the increased work lifespan of the older generation, which results in the delayed succession of the middle generation. In essence, with the older generation in good physical and mental health and working far longer, the middle generation may, in effect, be knocked out of position and never get its day in the sun. By the time the older generation decides to move along, the individual goals and life plans of the middle generation may have been passed by, and the baton may be passed to the next generation. This new risk can be mitigated by intentional strategic planning and clear communication among all generations as to what the expectations are for the working lifespan and when the baton should/will pass.

Strategies to Mitigate the Risk of Increased Lifespan to the Ability to Control Your Own Health and Affairs and the Risk to Next Generation’s Life Plans:

1. Understand that estate planning is much more than what happens when you die; in an increasingly aging population that is living longer, disability or incapacity planning is essential. Make sure you have in place the legal mechanisms so that you can be taken care of in the way you desire. It is important that we all remember what the flight attendant says every time you board a plane – if the cabin pressure changes and the oxygen mask falls down, put that mask over your own face first – it is only when you put the mask over your own face that you will have the strength to protect others. In other words, protect yourself first.

2. Make sure the documents that will protect you if you are unable to care for yourself (Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney) are up to date and accurately reflect your wishes.

A Health Care Proxy is a document in which you give the authority to an agent to make medical care decisions if you become unable to make them. The document can authorize everything, including minor and routine medical involvement, and can give the agent access to all your medical records. It can authorize someone to supervise your care if you are incapacitated, to consent to having you undergo certain types of treatment or to withdraw from treatment; to make hospital or nursing care arrangements; and to employ or discharge caregivers.   A Health Care Proxy can also empower the agent to make such major decisions as whether or not to terminate your life.

Under federal law, only one person at a time can be named as health care agent, but a Health Care Proxy can name a succession of people as alternatives.  This is done so that someone else can take over if, for instance, both spouses are in the same car crash, and neither one of them is in a condition to make medical decisions.  A copy of the Health Care Proxy should be given to your primary care physician and becomes part of the medical record.

As with a financial Durable Power of Attorney, in the health care area, couples usually designate each other to make medical care decisions and list their children as successor agents.  The health care agent must be someone you trust, who shares your value system, who is willing to perform the task, and who has a clear understanding of what your preferences are.

It is prudent to update this document regularly, and, when it is updated, to make sure that the contact information is completely up to date for those who have been designated to make health care decisions (including all telephone numbers and cell phone numbers). If the Health Care Proxy was executed prior to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (known as HIPPA), then the document must be updated. Under HIPPA, if you do not expressly waive your right to privacy in writing, hospitals and physicians do not have the legal right to speak with the health care agent or to release medical information to that person.

Choose a Health Care Agent. This important person may have different titles in different states (such as “health care agent,” “health proxy,” “patient advocate,”  “attorney-in-fact,” “health care representative,” or “health surrogate”), but the responsibilities are the same.  The official requirements for health care agents also vary from state to state, but most states simply specify that the person must be an adult (over 18) and must be someone who does not work for your health care provider or for an adult care facility in which you are residing.

It is good to designate both a health care agent and a successor agent (choice #1 and choice # 2), in case you need help at a time when the agent you have chosen is not available.  You should decide which child to choose, and if you have no spouse or children, which friend or relative to choose.

In order for you to choose a health care agent wisely, it is helpful to establish a basis for evaluating potential candidates. That evaluation should include the following criteria:

1) Religious beliefs:  Since the concept of withholding artificial life supports runs contrary to the teachings of several religions – most notably the Catholic Church – it is helpful to find a health care agent who shares your religious beliefs and your position on right-to-die issues.

2) Willingness to take on this task.

3)  Strength to act on your wishes and speak out on your behalf (even if faced with doctors, institutions, or family members who disagree).

4) Communication:  The agent is comfortable talking to you about sensitive issues and capable of listening to and absorbing what it is that you want.

5)  Separation:  This is a person who can differentiate between his/her feelings and yours and be able to do what you want done.

6)  Proximity: This is someone who either lives close or could travel quickly to be there when needed.

7)  Availability:  This person is likely to be accessible and capable of performing tasks well into the future.

8)  Personal understanding:  He/she knows you well enough to intuit what is important to you.

9)  Negotiation skills:  He/she can mediate conflicts between family members, friends, and medical personnel.


Patricia Annino
is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit, http://www.patriciaannino.com.

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