I was recently interviewed by Dale Smith from the Law Times on Powers of Attorney for Personal Care. The article can be viewed on the Law Times website.
The main thrust of my contribution to his article is the need to talk to those you intend to name as your Attorney for Personal Care, so that they know you what "quality of life" means to you. For some, these conversations can be difficult, as most of us shy away from discussing end of life matters, even among our friends and family.
In the context of LGBT clients, especially senior clients, it is important for the Attorney to know what their wishes are for long term residential care. Some cities have LGBT senior homes, while others are sorely lacking. And while some facilities might be LGBT-friendly (and offer a few rooms reserved for LGBT clients), for many seniors, going into a long term care facility also means returning to the closet.
Fortunately there are efforts underway to change this. The Ottawa Senior Pride Network, for example, has a housing committee that is looking into various options for LGBT seniors (See: http://ospn-rfao.ca/en/housing-committee/). I, along with may other members of the community, are encouraged by their initiative and hope to one day have a dedicated LGBT retirement home servicing the nation's capital.
Until then, however, it remains very important for clients to select people they trust completely to make their financial and personal care decisions for them when the time comes. To that end, I encourage clients to think about the areas of personal care that your Attorney will have authority to make decisions that should enhance, not hinder, your quality of life:
Health care: This is the topic that most people think about when they come in to get a POA "for health care" or a "living will". This is definitively an important topic but it is not the only one (as you'll see below). When it comes to health care decisions, your Attorney needs to understand that they are not to replace your wishes with their own; in other words, they shouldn't consent to treatment to prolong your life because "that's what I would have wanted if I were in that situation". They should be your advocate, and voice what you would want if you were capable of voicing that decision yourself. With certain clients, especially those with serious pre-existing conditions, you can attach an advance medical directive to your POA, which states your wishes for a wide range of circumstances (though this should always be completed with the assistance of a medical doctor).
Shelter: After consenting to medical treatment, the choice of where you will live, is probably the most important decision your Attorney will have to make. Consider the following questions: Do you want to stay at home as long as possible? Do you have the financial resources to do so (e.g., add chair lift, pay for support workers, etc)? Do you have a partner and wish to remain geographically close to him/her? And when the time comes to go to a more intensive care facility, what are some of the factors that are important to you? Onsite doctor? Is it LGBT-friendly? Does it offer religious services that accord to your faith?
Hygiene: While I jokingly ask my clients, how many showers per week do you want, your Attorney will be authorized to make such hygienic decisions for you. So some thoughts about quality of life to consider include: Do you prefer baths or showers? Do you need assistance in bathing or other personal hygiene matters? Are you ok with an electric razor or do you want a traditional shave? Would you like a bidet? What flavour of toothpaste and mouthwash do you like?
Nutrition: Food choices are important to everyone, but some have specific dietary needs, restrictions, or considerations. Some need their food to be kosher or halal. Others are vegetarian or vegan. And then there are those like me, that can't stand cilantro. Whatever your dietary quirks are, they are important to you and they are important to your qualify of life.
Clothing: Issues that fall under the clothing category, would include laundry service (though this overlaps with hygiene), but it also means getting new socks (maybe you need tension socks), slip resistant shoes, new underwear. Your Attorney can shop for new clothing for you, so it is important for your Attorney to know what is your style, and what makes you comfortable.
Personal Safety: To be honest, this issue is not often discussed, perhaps it is simply "understood" or self evident. Nevertheless, given the recent cases of elder abuse, including murder, safety is and should aways be at the forefront of the Attorney's mind. All of the previous decisions, especially the shelter decision, need to take into consideration your personal safety. For example, if you were to suffer discrimination based on your religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, then your personal safety needs are not being meet. If you are a risk to yourself, that too is something that needs to be considered (e.g., removal of sharp objects or other instruments of self harm).
As you can see, the issue of "Quality of Life" and choosing your Attorney for Personal Care is as important, if not more important, than choosing your Attorney for Property.
If you wish to discuss your estate plans, including executing your Powers of Attorney, please contact my office and I would be glad to set up an appointment with you.