NEW YORK--The power of attorney, the health-care proxy, and the
living will "are the three simplest things we can do to control
our destiny. They're not overly complex, not expensive, and once
you arrange for these documents, you can get on with your life,"
attorney Edward J. Mullen told cancer patients at a legal clinic
in the Manhattan office of Cancer Care, Inc., an agency that provides
professional social service support to cancer patients and their
The patient should also have a will, no matter how small the estate.
Mr. Mullen explained that in most cases, if there is no will,
the state will determine which relatives will inherit. "In
New York, Surrogate's Court may request a family tree, so it can
notify all the people who qualify as heirs." Trouble may
ensue, he said. "Your family may hear from the lawyers of
relatives you haven't seen in 50 years."
The Power of Attorney
Without a power of attorney, Mr. Mullen said, when a patient suddenly
becomes incompetent, someone will have to go to court to get a
guardian appointed to take care of the patient's affairs.
"It's a time consuming and costly process that you wouldn't
want to get into if you can help it," he said. "The
power of attorney gives you the right to name someone you trust
to take care of your affairs. This person cannot make your medical
decisions or write your will, and he can't make gifts of your
property, unless you specifically grant such power."
New York State has a specific power of attorney form, he said.
But whatever form is used, it should provide for a so-called durable
power of attorney, which guarantees that the power exists even
if you become incompetent.
Mr. Mullen also warned against putting one's copy of the power
of attorney in a safety deposit box. "Make sure the person
to whom you gave the power of attorney has a copy of the document."