Warning: serious content! On New Year’s Eve, I experienced a traumatic event. It was compounded by a simple, inexpensive “To Do” that most people are completely unaware of and, of course, overlook because of it. Please, please, please, keep reading to find out what this is and how you can give yourself peace of mind, as well as for your loved ones.
Bottom line, this blog post is about having a Living Will and Power of Attorney. Don’t you dare stop reading just because this seems dry and you presume it unnecessary for this time of your life!!! Please read my story and decide for yourself if you need additional research based on which country and state/province you live in, and whether you need to take action.
Ok, before I get into my personal story, let’s make this immediately relevant to you. Will you admit that there is some sort of chance you walk out your front door and attain a head injury by slipping on the ice or getting into an accident of some kind?
Did you know if you are deemed incapable of making decisions and you aren’t in immediate medical danger, and if you haven’t assigned a Power of Attorney or made some sort of Living Will (at least in the province of Ontario), that the state automatically assumes power over all of your decisions concerning personal care and finance?
This is a fact! And I’m here to tell you through personal experience. Here’s my story:
The Reason Why Everyone Should Make a Living Will & Assign POA
Ok. Whew. Here we go… In the Spring of 2013, my Mum was hospitalized for issues with her diabetes. At the time I was living in Toronto and she in my hometown of Renfrew, Ontario. I took some time off work and came to help her out for a week. After that, she seemed to be managing things better. She even came to Toronto for a visit in the summer and I could see she was trying to manage her illness on her own.
Over the next few months, though, when I spoke to her on the phone and even though she denied it, I could tell she was having difficulty.
I was in contact with my old hometown boss, who had offered me management opportunities in the past whenever I came home for a visit, and once again he reminded me that I always have a job with him. By the end of the summer, I decided to take him up on the offer. He also assisted in helping me find an apartment. I was all set!
I moved back home and the next few months it was a whirlwind of getting settled in my new job and home, as well as manage this blog and my freelance writing career. Mum and I spent as much time as possible together. All the while I would be asking her questions about her blood sugar, if she was eating properly (she became a regular guest at the restaurant to see me and eat good food), and if I pushed even a little because she gave me a vague answer, she’d get mad at me.
It’s really a strange feeling when the roles between your parents and you switch. We were in that transition, and really, I hadn’t had time to do my diabetes research, so I could only take her word for it.
Leading up to the holidays, I was filled with rage, frustration and helplessness. I knew my Mum needed extra help, but every time I brought it up she would get angry and tell me she knew what she was doing. I was angry because she wasn’t doing what she needed to do (and was lying about it), I was frustrated because she denied it, and I felt helpless because when I called tele-health and the associated numbers they gave me, they all said they needed the consent of the client before they could help.
So the night before New Year’s Eve, I stopped by to see Mum to bring her some things she said she needed. I knew she was “off” and asked her if I could take her to the emergency room to see a doctor. She got angry once again and refused. She promised she would eat something and I left with a promise to myself that no matter what, the next day I was bringing her to see a doctor.
When I arrived at her house at noon the next day, right after speaking with someone about aging parents and how to get them help without their consent, I found her on the floor in her living room, naked and barely conscious. I called 911 and they rushed her to the hospital. She was hyperglycemic, hypothermic and had ketoacidosis.
Because they couldn’t stabilize her in our hometown ICU, they rushed her to Ottawa. She was there for 3 days and then transported back to the Renfrew hospital for an additional week and a half.
While she was “out to lunch,” and based on my research in how to find her help without her consent, I learned that in emergency situations, the next of kin is asked about her “living will” or any requests in regards to resuscitation and the like. She was still “out-of-her” for 2 days in the Ottawa ICU so I continued my investigations in how I was to go about making decisions for her.
I learned that as soon as she was out of medical danger, that because she hadn’t made a living will or assigned a Power of Attorney while in her “right” mind (I had to phone her lawyer to see if she had), then if she was deemed incapable of making decisions for herself, the state would automatically take the power and make any decisions for her regarding her personal care and property.
This scared the hell out of me, not only because I knew she wouldn’t want a stranger making her decisions for her, but also because I was superbly uncomfortable with this idea myself. I soon understood that while she was still living and in this state of mind without a POA, I had no way of depositing any checks for her in her account, nor paying any of her bills with her money. I also realized that moving forward, there was no way I could sell her house to fund a move into a long-term care facility.
Lessons from this New Year’s Eve Event
My Mum came out of her mental incapacity and she’s at home now. Between my mum’s attempts, myself, a nurse, caseworker and a home-care worker to help with cleaning, we’re all trying to get her on a schedule and managing her diabetes. But it’s a struggle. Mom has her good days and she has her bad days. Right now, she still isn’t managing well enough to be on her own. We’re doing the best we can to help Mom with her independence.
The best news ever is that we visited her lawyer and signed a Living Will and Power of Attorney for both Personal Care and Property. This cost us a total of $200 versus the $2,000 I was looking at before to gain POA over the state. This is an investment well worth the money (I normally don’t believe in insurance… but this one truly gives me peace of mind).
A “Living Will,” by the way, is a statement of how you would like your life to presume if you were suddenly incapable of making your own decisions but were still technically alive. You can state how you would like to be treated in life-threatening situations, at what point you’d like to be taken off life-support, if you’d like to be an organ donor and every type of variant therein.
Being a Power of Attorney is a huge responsibility. It’s made a little easier with every detail you include in your Living Will, because they have to abide by your wishes (which you outline while you’re mentally capable), and all they have to do is follow your instructions, unless it endangers your life.
In Ontario, you have options in assigning Power of Attorney, for instance you can have a POA for personal health and another POA for property. You can have two POA’s that have to agree before a decision is made or assign one as POA and another as back up in case the first one is out of the country or otherwise incapable of making your decisions for you. I urge you to check out this pdf on Ontario Powers of Attorney and Living Wills.
Will you be investigating Living Wills and Powers of Attorney in your immediate area?