HELP LINE: Some legal forms help when you need them

THOSE OF YOU who have been following my weekly meanderings for more years than you care to remember are well-aware of the fact that I go on about durable powers of attorney and advance directives (living wills, etc.) with some degree of unpredictable regularity.

A reasonable question would be, “Why does he keep doing that? We’ve already covered this ground.”

A reasonable answer is, “Because there keep being new people who care.”

Besides, today I have a new twist on it.

First, the obligatory primer: A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to grant the authority to do something on your behalf to someone else.

An example would be that you could grant your brother-in-law the authority to sell your 1968 Volkswagen bus while you vacation in Newfoundland.

He does it, so mission accomplished and the power of attorney expires.

A power of attorney (POA) is also predicated on the fact that you know what you’re doing (informed consent) when you grant that authority.

Now, if you’ve drawn up a POA that grants someone the authority to make financial or health care or any other kinds of decisions on your behalf, then something happens to you that impacts your ability to know what you’re doing, that POA is instantaneously null and void.

Why? Because you’re no longer able to grant informed consent.

So, think stroke, dementia or other unhappy thoughts.

Right. Your POA just became useless.

A durable POA endures (or maybe only kicks in after) said unhappy event.

So, when you can no longer make decisions for yourself (think money or medical), someone else can.

So you have it when you need it, get it?

OK, a health care directive (living will, whatnot) is a document that declares what kind of medical interventions you do or don’t want in the event that you’re in no shape to speak for yourself at the time.

Now, if you want all the heroic interventions (which is a perfectly acceptable thing to want), then don’t worry about a health care directive, and that’s what you’ll get: the full-meal deal.

Revoke or revise

By the way, you can revoke or revise either a durable power of attorney and/or a health care directive any old time you like, so you are not “setting anything in concrete.”

A number of us consider these two documents integral parts of the I-doubt-that-I’ll-live-forever package, along with wills and (as applicable) community property agreements.

Reasonable question No. 2: “So, what’s the new twist you threatened us with?”

Reasonable answer, with a bit of context:

Every time this subject comes up, people immediately want to know where online they can get forms for these documents, and I’m never a big fan of that.

I think there’s a lot to be said for sitting with an elder-law attorney because those folks have the insight and experience to ask us the right questions that force us to consider the what-about-this and what-about-that.

That’s still what I think is the best idea.

However, I do concede that some folks simply do not have the money to allow that to happen, so I’ve directed them to a free resource: washington, which has an amazing trove of legal resources.

It’s free, and it’s maintained by the Northwest Justice Project, which is completely reputable.

The new twist is that Northwest Justice has recently revised the durable power of attorney and health care directive form on this site.

It’s split them apart and made them fillable PDF forms. It’s also attached a nifty little glossary so you can ensure you understand the terms that appear in the forms.

If you go to NorthwestJusticeForms, you’ll see them. No credit card required.

Just so we all know that I haven’t suddenly stopped being stubborn, I still believe that the best way to go is face to face with an elder-law attorney, for the reason noted above. So there.

I happen to be a big fan of both of these kinds of documents, regardless of the specifics that anyone might choose to include in them, for one simple reason: If you never need them, no harm.

But if you ever do and you don’t have them, it’ll be too late to get them, and the people you purport to love will be left scrambling to clean up your mess.

If you decide to cruise the WashingtonLawHelp site, it might be smart to take an extra minute or two to see what else is there.

You can learn a lot. I always do.

But then, I’m increasingly struck by how much I have to learn.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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