For many patients, there comes a time when disease and other medical conditions leave medical providers with few treatment options. Patients who reach that terminal state of illness are often confronted with the hard reality of knowing that there is no cure for their condition. In many cases, their focus must be redirected from treatment that is designed to improve their health and to care that is designed to make their remaining days as comfortable as possible. This end-of-life care is known as hospice care, and emphasizes quality time with loved ones, pain management, and patient dignity. If you or a loved one need hospice care or expect to need such care in the near future, a hospice planning attorney can help.
How Hospice Care Differs from Traditional Medical Care
Hospice care is not as well-understood as most other types of health care services, and that’s unfortunate. Far too many patients pass away in hospitals, far from family and friends. Hospice care provides another option for those patients, allowing them to settle their personal affairs and live out their remaining days in the company of those they love most in the world. Typically, this care is provided in the patient’s own home, or at a facility that offers a homelike atmosphere. Some nursing homes can also offer hospice-level care for their patients who need it.
Typically, this type of care is provided for patients who are expected to pass away within the next six months. These patients are usually referred to hospice in instances where curative treatment is no longer an option, or where the patient no longer wishes to pursue curative measures. In most instances, these patients are suffering from pain that would interfere with their regular quality of life and daily routines were they to remain in their own homes without any outside help.
How an Attorney Can Help
Hospice patients generally confront several main challenges in their final years of life. Most of these challenges are related to issues involving estate planning and incapacity plans, and require the assistance of an experienced lawyer. A hospice planning attorney can provide a variety of services that can help to resolve many of these challenges, while enabling the patient and his or her family to enjoy the peace of mind that they deserve. All too often, though, hospice patients and their families neglect these challenges until it is too late to easily address them:
- Asset protection. Trusts and other asset protection tools may be necessary to ensure that the patient’s assets are safeguarded against loss during this difficult period. An attorney can help to ensure that those protections are in place.
- The living will. Ideally, the patient will have already executed a living will. If not, a hospice planning attorney can take care of that important details as well.
- Power of attorney. Not everyone who goes to hospice suffers from a complete legal incapacitation. However, many illnesses eventually result in a loss of capacity, so it is important for patients to have the right protections in place. The best option is to have a full incapacity plan in place before hospice is needed, but hospice lawyers can often help many patients even if they didn’t plan that far ahead.
- Estate planning. End-of-life concerns should always include estate planning to ensure that assets are properly managed and distributed when the patient passes away. From in-office planning to bedside estate plan preparation, a hospice planning attorney can be an invaluable aid during such troubled times.
Challenges of Last-Minute Planning
For patients who wait until they’re already in a hospice setting, planning of this nature can present many challenges. Because patients in hospice are often receiving palliative care, many can struggle to remain lucid enough to properly assist in their own estate and incapacity planning efforts. Just consider the following problems that can occur:
- When patients are in and out of consciousness because of pain medication, it can be difficult to find that moment of lucidity needed to ensure that their wishes are properly addressed in their planning documents.
- There are even instances in which it can be difficult to get wills and trusts signed. In those cases, it is often necessary to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that signings are properly documented in a way that enables the will to withstand scrutiny when it enters probate.
- An invalidated will is of no value for estate planning purposes.
The best time to create an estate and incapacity plan is before you enter hospice. That can better ensure that your wishes are respected, and provide you with the legal protections you need to guard against unwanted guardianship and the stress and cost that it can bring. In fact, it is wise to contact a hospice planning attorney as soon as you know that hospice is an option. That can help to prevent last-minute planning that could come back to haunt your loved ones after you pass away.
Help for Family Members
When a loved one needs hospice care, family members can benefit from a hospice lawyer’s help too. There are a variety of options available to help finance palliative care solutions, and an experienced attorney can help you to better understand the different choices that your family can make. At the same time, your attorney can provide important guidance about powers of attorney and at-home care that can help to make the entire process easier to manage.
The single most important thing to remember is that hospice care is not something that you or your loved ones need to deal with on your own. There is help available to simplify the process and ensure that you have the protections needed to safeguard your family assets and interests. At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, our team can help you to better understand your challenges and provide the planning you need. If you’re ready to learn more about how a hospice planning attorney can help you and your loved ones to properly prepare for hospice care, call today at (317) 684-1100 or contact us at our website.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.