Allison Kierman

Allison Kierman with her children at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.

Thankfully, for the great majority of people who have contracted COVID-19, the symptoms appear to be relatively mild. But some people are falling ill for months, and many of those who get sick will experience cognitive impairment during the course of the illness. It is crucial for everyone, particularly those who are in good health, to understand how their medical directives may need to be updated in the event of a coronavirus-related illness.

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney names a trusted person as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes to your health care provider. It is important to communicate important information regarding your preferred providers, medical conditions, treatments you do or do not want, religious and cultural beliefs.

With regard to COVID-19, you should discuss with your agent the following questions: 

  • Do you want coronavirus-related treatment? 
  • Do you want to be treated at home or in a medical facility? 
  • Do you want your agent to call 911 if they are concerned about you?
  • Do you want to be intubated or ventilated?
  • Do you want to be resuscitated?
  • Do you want the likelihood of recovery or quality of life to play a role in making the aforementioned decisions? 

Each of these questions have medical and financial implications that you should also consider.

Living Will 

A living will is a document that is intended to clearly communicate your wishes for the end of your life or in the event that you are terminally ill and have no hope for recovery. Living wills are important to allow your family and health care providers to understand your wishes when you are no longer able to communicate them. 

You can personalize your living will to allow life support for a certain period of time — for example, to allow for the passage of additional months, a lunar cycle, for family to visit or for certain religious or cultural arrangements to be made. 

Some patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia have reported that they struggled to breathe and deteriorated very rapidly. In casees like that, medical decisions regarding intubation, resuscitation and basic care often need to be made quickly. For your living will, you should consider specifying the life-saving procedures you do or do not want. 

HIPAA Authorizations

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act authorizations allow those designated to receive protected medical information when you otherwise may not be able to communicate with your family or release your information. 

With regard to the coronavirus, people have relied upon HIPAA authorizations more than ever because hospitals and nursing homes have not allowed visitors, and it’s the only way to obtain an update about a loved one’s condition. 

The spread of COVID-19 warrants a review of your HIPAA authorizations to ensure they are properly updated to reflect those who are in your life now and, for parents, to ensure they have the proper authorization for their young adult children.

Funeral Planning 

Any time there is a crisis, you should consider if you have specific funeral or memorial services requests. You can use a memorial and services memorandum to provide information to your family and loved ones about your wishes for your service, people who should be notified when you pass away, instructions regarding your remains and information you would like to be included in your obituary. 

In this crisis, where patients are sick, distressed and isolated, knowing what interventions a loved one would want and making these clear is critical. 

So, wash your hands, practice social distancing and get your affairs in order. JN

Allison L. Kierman is the managing partner of Kierman Law, PLC, an Arizona estate planning and probate law firm based in Scottsdale. She is also secretary of the board of directors for Congregation Beth Israel and a member of the youth board of directors for the Martin Pear Jewish Community Center.

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