Okay, this is a departure from the usual focus of this blog. But most of you know I have been going through a huge crisis with my wife, Bianca. Bianca has Bipolar Disorder I, a serious mental illness which involves manic episodes in which she is very aggressive and angry and hard to control. Bianca hates lack of control anyway. I sometimes wonder if this is because her mind races out of control even when she's stable and so she constantly grasps for control to fight her sense of losing control. I don't know. I can't be inside the mind of a Bipolar person. But I know that if I had ever imagined how bad a crisis could be, I would have been more prepared.
When Bianca is having a manic episode, she can seem normal to people who don't know her. Sure, she talks a lot, but Bianca loves to talk even when she isn't manic. And she can definitely exercise her will and free choice. The problem is, she is not rational and her choices are wrong and not in her best interest or even crazy illogical. But because of the stupidly written HIPPA law given us by Nancy Landon Kassebaum and Ted Kennedy, hospitals must protect patient privacy and that means, since the law is so broad, they tend to obey patient's wishes until they are declared mentally competent by a court of law. So Bianca was able to shut me out of any health info, any visits, any decisions. She could order up medical tests which cost tons of money by claiming cancer or other ills. I don't think she did but she could have. And I would have a bill to pay with no input on the decision.
What Bianca and I needed is what all of you with spouses need: executed power of attorney and medical power of attorney documents (also called designated health care agent). These documents, fairly standard, can be prepared for you by an attorney at low cost, signed before a notary, and then ready if you need them. Dear God, I hope you never do, but what if you did. What if one of you became brain damaged and was in dementia, making insane decisions but not able to be declared mentally unsound easily. What would the other person do? Want to feel helpless? Wait for that to happen. What if one of you was in a coma and the other needed to make decisions on co-signed finances or finances you didn't know much about? About medical treatment, etc.?
If you don't have those documents, you will have to file for guardianship like I did and it will cost you 20 times more money and stress. Don't wait to find out, be prepared.
On top of it, if one of you handles all the bank accounts and stocks, etc., create a one sheet with passwords, account numbers, bank addresses, even phone numbers and contact persons for the other. Put it in a safety deposit box but let the other person and one friend you trust know it's there. The person you love may be so distraught they won't remember. The friend can remind them.
Here's an example of the document as it is statutory in Texas: http://www.ilrg.com/forms/states/tx-powerofattorneymed.html
In most cases, you will want to assign two designees with health care power of attorney. That's in case both of you are incapacitated at the same time in an accident, so someone can pay bills, take of the kids and pets, etc. Don't be afraid. The documents will specify the circumstances under which they can be used, and the length of time before the power is resumed by you. In case of divorce, the document can be listed as being nullified. It's not giving up your rights immediately at any time. It's for emergencies only. And it's worth it.
Trust me. You don't want to live the nightmare I am living. I hope to God you never face similar circumstances, but what if you do? It's hard enough seeing the person you love in this condition. Having them fighting your every decision when you're trying to just get them the best care. It's hard enough having a hospital treat you like a stranger with no say. Do you really want that? Being prepared is the only way to avoid the stress and bankrupting expense I am facing. And you'll be able to act quickly, not wait for court decisions. It may be the difference between life and death for your loved one. In my case, it's not, thank God. But what if it was? Can any of us afford to take that chance?
For what it's worth...