It’s the last thing you want to talk about. No one looks forward to the conversation with their parents about incapacity and health care. It is an emotional and stressful topic. Unfortunately if you do not address it the end result will be tenfold more stressful. Most importantly, without this conversation, your parents will not be able to communicate their wishes upon incapacity.

As people age it becomes more likely that they could suffer incapacity due to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or coma. If your parents become injured or sick without incapacity documents then they will be unable to explain their desires for treatment. They will not be able to explain their requests for care or what to do in case of resuscitation. The decisions will fall on the shoulders of physicians, court-appointed guardians, lawyers and judges. These people will likely be unaware of your parents’ true wishes.

Parents’ wishes will be unheard without incapacity documents

This is why it is so important to sit down and talk to your parents about incapacity documents. Your parents and their attorney can create a document called an advance health care directive, or an AHCD. An AHCD can do two things:

1. Assign a health care agent: They can assign someone to make health care decisions for them if they are incapacitated.

2. Give instructions for health care: They can create a set of instructions for various health care scenarios, listing their wishes for care, medication and resuscitation.

The important role of a health care agent

If your parents decide to appoint you as a health care agent then you will need to understand the responsibility of acting on their behalf. You might need to watch over their care for an extended period of time and therefore it helps if your job is flexible or if you live near your parents. If you are chosen as a health care agent then you will have the power to select physicians, institutions, choose treatment, will have access to medical records and have the power to withhold life-sustaining treatment.

An assigned health care agent will not be responsible for the healthcare bills. An AHCD does many important things but it does not give a caregiver power over finances. Parents can entrust power over their finances in case of incapacity to an appointed person with a Durable Power of Attorney or a Revocable Living Trust. These can be completed with the help of an attorney.