Just prior to Homeland’s suspenseful finale this season, Carrie and Saul attempted to wake CIA assassin Quinn up from his medically induced coma to get critical information about an impending attack on Berlin. To their disappointment, Quinn was not only unable to speak, but his life was placed at risk due to brain hemorrhaging that occurred because he was awoken from the coma.
Very few of us have ever imagined that this kind of thing could happen to us or a close family member or friend. But the truth is, it does happen (well, maybe not the CIA part). Just a few months ago, Lamar Odom made headlines everywhere when he lay in a coma in a Nevada Hospital. So, god forbid something should happen to you, as an Trust and Estate Attorney I recommend at least ensuring you’re in good hands. This can be done with what’s commonly called an a medical power of attorney, or in California, an Advance Healthcare Directive.
An advance healthcare directive allows an individual to specify an agent – someone who can make medical decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated. “Incapacitated” could mean one is in a coma, like in Quinn’s case, or it could mean mental incapacity. Dementia or Alzheimer’s is a good example of mental incapacity.
In the case of Lamar Odom, he did not have a medical power of attorney or advance healthcare directive, so by default the agent became his legal wife, Khloe Kardashian. As his agent, Khloe was able to make medical decisions on Lamar’s behalf.
When I saw this particular episode of Homeland, it left me wondering if the CIA has secret agents sign over their power of attorneys to the agency. Legally, this is the only way that Carrie and Saul would have been able to get the medical staff to take Quinn out of his coma.
Nevertheless, it was a good reminder to make sure estate planning documents are complete. It’s also a good idea to check in with older parents and relatives to ensure their estate plan is up to date as well. If there is only one agent named on your power of attorney, it’s also a good idea to add a secondary agent. Throughout my career as an Elder Law attorney, I have handled many cases that required my involvement (and the requisite expense) because the agent named in a power of attorney was either in dispute, or the agent was unable to fulfill their role.
A legally valid advance healthcare directive or medical power of attorney document can be done with an experienced estate planning attorney who works in the County you or your family member reside in. For example, I generally execute powers of attorney for residents of Contra Costa or Alameda County. These documents are also part of estate planning packages, along with a trust, will, and financial power of attorney.
Once you have the documents signed and notarized (which is surprisingly simple), place the originals in a safe and in an accessible location. If you ever find yourself or a family member in need of these forms, doctors will need to see the documents before proceeding.
Overall, the lesson is simple: do your estate plan, or at the very least get your advance healthcare directive set up. Check in with older family members to make sure they also have their estate plan in order. Valid estate planning documents can save families thousands of dollars in litigation fees, and countless hours stress and headache should a problem arise. Once that’s done, catch up on Homeland, because it continues to be a great series!