In the earliest issues of the Caregiver Chronicle, I wrote about the importance of having a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), as well as several other critical legal documents. It’s never too soon to repeat that message. Time and time again I see families that have not prepared for the legal ramifications when a loved one becomes unable to make important legal and medical decisions.

Let’s start with the DPOA. A detailed and comprehensive DPOA is a crucial element when dealing with issues related to disability and aging. It’s extremely important for the DPOA to be as concise as possible. We often see very general documents that cause more problems and may not even be legal.

One thing to be aware of is that in Florida the DPOA becomes effective as soon as it is signed, not when the person becomes disabled. So it is important that you select someone with whom you are in agreement or have the DPOA held in escrow. The DPOA must be very specific, and the powers granted must be initialed. General, broad powers will not be recognized.

Some of the significant benefits of having a DPOA are: providing the ability to choose who will make decisions for you rather than having the court decide; avoiding the necessity of a guardianship; providing family members with an opportunity to discuss wishes and desires and preventing questions about your intent; allowing agents to talk to third-party service providers.

Equally important to having a DPOA is making sure there are medical advanced directives. A Designation of Health-care Surrogate and Living Will allow you to choose who will make decisions for you in the event of incapacity. And if you have a loved one in a senior-living facility, it is important to find out if the facility will honor your family member’s wishes when it comes to performing CPR.

More recently we wrote here about POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment), which is just now gaining a foothold in Florida. POLST is designed to complement advance directives, listing the types of treatment that are wanted or not wanted. It is a program that includes education, training and a quality improvement process. Be sure to ask your physician about whether they have adopted this protocol.

And of course the most common, but often neglected document one should have is a will. Many people, especially those who don’t have large estates, believe they don’t need a will. But that’s not the case. Sitting down with a lawyer and completing a will is the best way to ensure your wishes will be fulfilled – and to avoid leaving anything up to the courts.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns that will be presented in this newsletter by Sam W. Boone, Jr., a local attorney whose primary practice areas include elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration. It is hoped that the information will be valuable for caregivers and family members dealing with issues related to elder law.

Sam W. Boone, Jr. is a Gainesville-based attorney practicing elder law and estate planning. He is past-president of the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys. To learn more about elder-law issues, go online to www. http://boonelaw.com, or call (352)-374-8308.

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