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How To Plan Proactively for a Medical Emergency

Written by: Rebecca Rosefelt, Esq. , Contributing Author
Reviewed by: Jordan Walker, J.D. , Legal Writer
Last updated March 08, 2024

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Everyone’s probably heard the saying “Life happens and then you die.” From natural disasters, like a tornado, to the pandemic, the last few years have shown us just how true that can be. No one should take their health for granted. We know it’s important to have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in our homes, but it’s also important to have an emergency plan in place if a crisis occurs.

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If something happens and you are suddenly unable to make or communicate your wishes, possible situations that could happen include:

  • Mishandling of your finances and unpaid bills or expenses
  • Unknown information about the health care treatment you want or do not want to receive and questions about your health insurance

And if you were to die without a plan, there may be uncertainty among your loved ones regarding who you want your assets and other belonging to go to. This can cause confusion and conflict among your family and friends, and even lead to legal proceedings. Emergency preparedness is about more than calling the local fire department or EMS. The effects of not being prepared can exist long after the first responders get you to an emergency room.

Proactive Planning Includes an Estate Plan

Fortunately, you can prevent the worst by taking matters into your own hands now by creating an estate plan. You may even be able to make an estate plan yourself. FindLaw’s state-specific estate planning forms are easy to use and include instructions for signing and finalizing your documents according to what’s required in your state.

You should consider what you want to happen after you die and think about what you would and wouldn’t want if you were incapacitated. This is when you are no longer able to make decisions or communicate on your own, often because you have a terminal condition, are permanently unconscious, or suffer from some other end-stage condition.

You can leave instructions for the distribution of your assets after your death and appoint a guardian for minor children, if any, in your last will and testament. In the event you become incapacitated, you can appoint someone you trust to manage your finances by preparing a financial power of attorney. Additionally, you can further plan for incapacity by making a health care directive and living will with instructions for your medical care and the designation of a health care agent to oversee your medical treatment.

Making Your Medical Wishes Known

You need to decide what you would like to happen if you are unable to make decisions about your health care so you can receive urgent care quickly. By creating a health care directive and living will, you can state your treatment preferences and appoint a health care agent. A health care directive and living will can also be called an advance directive, medical power of attorney, health care power of attorney, declaration regarding life-sustaining treatment, or some other similar term. Many people choose to create a health care directive and living will that is made up of two parts and contains:

  • Instructions for health care treatment
  • The designation of a health care agent

The instructions for treatment you want and do not want to receive can include directions regarding emergency care and:

  • Primary care facilities, health care providers, and other medical team members or caregivers
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AED)
  • Life-sustaining treatment, such as ventilation
  • Artificial nutrition and hydration
  • Treatments specific to your personal health risks
  • Organ or tissue donation

You should choose someone you trust as your health care agent to ensure you receive high-quality patient care and medical services. A health care agent is also sometimes referred to as an attorney in fact, health care surrogate, medical representative, health care proxy, or something similar. This person can make sure your instructions are followed and make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so yourself.

Take Care of Your Finances

The handling of your finances can become a serious issue during an emergency situation. To make your emergency response more effective, you can include a financial power of attorney in your estate plan. You are able to appoint someone you trust, called an agent or attorney in fact, to handle your money and property for you if you are incapacitated. Some examples of what you can grant your agent the authority to do on your behalf include:

  • Handle real estate transactions and manage your personal property
  • Oversee your investments and banking activities
  • Run your business
  • Handle lawsuits
  • Maintain your family’s standard of living by paying bills and other expenses
  • Access and maintain your social media accounts

Your financial agent is not the same thing as a health care agent and cannot make decisions about your health care. However, you can also give your financial agent the authority to pay your medical bills and make inquiries about health insurance premiums or reimbursements and other claims.

Plan for the Worst

Although it may not be something you want to do, a proactive approach to emergency planning includes thinking about what happens after you die. Do this by making sure your estate plan includes a last will and testament. You can state how you want your property distributed at your death, nominate a guardian for any minor children, name a caretaker for your pets, if any, and appoint a personal representative to administer your estate. A personal representative is often called an executor and pays any debts or claims against your estate and distributes your assets as instructed in your will.

DIY Resources for Emergency Planning

It may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. FindLaw wants everyone to have access to the peace of mind that comes with having your affairs in order. That’s why our estate planning documents are easy to use and carefully tailored to meet the requirements of your state. You can prepare for all kinds of emergency situations by creating your own estate plan.

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