Ask Dr. Gary: Plan for disaster


Some time ago you wrote about how difficult things can become if a person loses his faculties, ends up in a coma or is put on life support, and nobody is aware of that person's wishes. Is there a website where one could download a form to fill in for situations mentioned above? - Erik

No matter how young we are, we're all just one bad car crash away from being head injured and incapable of making our own medical decisions. The document you're interested in is called an Enduring Power of Attorney. It kicks in once a healthcare provider has determined that you are incapable of understanding the consequences of your choices, or unable to communicate those choices to others.

An EPA lets you choose one person, confusingly called an "attorney". The person you choose has to be a non-bankrupt adult, but other than that the choice is pretty much up to you. Hopefully they are someone you know and trust, perhaps a spouse or adult child, as they will make decisions concerning your care. The law allows you to specify what health matters they can decide on, or allow them to act on all relevant health matters. They can be required to seek consultation with individuals you specify, for example a GP, and to notify family members of significant medical decisions they make. You can also specify a back-up person in case your first choice person becomes unable to assume the duties.

The major downside of an EPA is the cost: to protect consumers, the law requires that you receive legal counsel regarding the EPA. That advice can come from a lawyer, a qualified legal executive, or an authorised officer or employee of a trustee corporation. If any readers know of low-cost options, let me know. Do your reading and prepare your forms ahead of time, to keep the legal advice process as efficient and inexpensive as possible. One source for such information is the Office for Senior Citizens website, which has an informative FAQ and online forms available at www.osc.govt.nz.

- Hamilton News

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