Ask the Expert: How Can the Hospital Access My Mother’s Incapacity Planning Documents, If Needed?

Q. My mother, Jane, is 68 and has arthritis and high blood pressure, and had knee surgery last spring. She lives at the home I grew up in, in Fredericksburg, and the neighbor tells me that she needs a lot more help lately. My family moved to Arizona a while back. The last time I saw her was over a year ago, when we visited for Thanksgiving, and the children and I miss her terribly.

Unfortunately, due to work conflicts and cost, we cannot visit this year. She wants to come to Arizona with my brother, Dan, and spend some time with us next month, but her doctors and physical therapist are in Fredericksburg. I am wondering what would happen if she gets sick or injured and has to be hospitalized while she is visiting?

I tried asking her about the power of attorney documents she has in place, since I am completely unaware if she has any at all, but she couldn’t explain it very well and just told me that she outlined some very detailed wishes in her documents.  Just so I know, what are documents she needs in case she becomes disabled or somehow incapacitated? Also, how can a hospital in Arizona retrieve her documents, if needed? It would give me much peace of mind about her taking the trip if we were certain they could access her wishes, should something happen to her.

A. What your mother needs to have in place are Incapacity Planning documents, which  commonly include a Financial Power of Attorney and an Advance Medical Directive.  An Advance Medical Directive (also called a Medical Power of Attorney or a Health Care Power of Attorney) authorizes another person (called a “Medical Agent”), to make decisions with respect to your mother’s medical care in the event that she is physically or mentally unable to do so. This document includes the type of provisions that used to be in what was commonly called a “Living Will,” allowing her to indicate her wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong her life artificially in the event of a terminal illness or injury. This document also indicates your mother’s wishes with regard to organ donation, disposition of bodily remains, and funeral arrangements. With the Advance Medical Directive, your mother appoints an agent and gives that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on her behalf with regard to providing, withholding, or withdrawing a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when she is incapable of making or communicating an informed decision on her own behalf.

A General Financial Power of Attorney, on the other hand, authorizes your mother’s agent, sometimes called “Attorney-in-Fact,” to act on her behalf and sign her name to financial and legal documents. Read more about the General Financial Power of Attorney.

Incapacity planning documents only do what your mother wants them to do if you know they exist and can locate them when you or medical professionals needs them.  If you or medical professionals cannot find your mother’s Advance Directive, the burden is on you and your brother to decide whether or not to begin or continue life support. Therefore, in order for your mother’s documents to be easily accessible when needed, she should be registered with an electronic archive service that can immediately fax the documents to any desired destination.

At The Fairfax Medicaid and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we offer a service called DocuBank to ensure that that the documents your mother has completed will be there when she needs them most, such as if she is hospitalized.

DocuBank is an electronic storage and access service for healthcare directives and other important legal documents.  DocuBank stores your Advance Medical Directive, HIPAA Release, and any other legal documents you wish to store, so they are available whenever you need them.

How does DocuBank work?

  • DocuBank would transmit your mother’s Advance Medical Directive to hospitals within moments, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, around the world, so in your situation, hospitals in Arizona can gain access to your mother’s documents if they are needed.
  • Your mother’s documents would be stored safely in DocuBank’s system and available immediately by using her Member Number and PIN Code located on a DocuBank Emergency Card.
  • Hospitals can access her documents by placing a toll free call to 1-800-DOCUBANK (to have them faxed) or by clicking the Hospital Button, or using the pop up box on the DocuBank home page (to print them immediately).
  • When a hospital calls into DocuBank, they receive a cover page listing your three Emergency Contacts with phone numbers as well as your primary doctor so that they can be reached in an emergency.

Watch this video about DocuBank for more details.

Docubank is a special service we provide to clients of Farr Law Firm, P.C. who set up Advance Medical Directives such as those listed in your first question. Once you are set up, the DocuBank Emergency card arrives within 4-6 weeks of enrollment and comes with alert stickers to be placed on your driver’s license. Once you receive it, be sure to carry your DocuBank Emergency Card in your wallet at all times. Hope you come by and take advantage of this great service soon!

Every adult over the age of 18 should have an Incapacity Plan that includes a Financial Power of Attorney, an Advance Medical Directive, and an Advance Care Plan.  In addition, if your mother hasn’t done so already, she should start planning for long-term care. Please suggest that she call the Fairfax Estate Planning and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. to set up an appointment for a consultation at 703-691-1888.

Financial Power of Attorney

Advance Medical Directive

Advance Care Plan


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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