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 families.
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."