Could having a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) be right for you?

Most of us have heard of a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), but what does it mean?

A DPOA ensures that even when you can no longer decide for yourself, you actually still can.  (photo credit: ALPHA STOCK IMAGES)
A DPOA ensures that even when you can no longer decide for yourself, you actually still can.
(photo credit: ALPHA STOCK IMAGES)
There are only two things in life of which one can be certain. That we will enter this world and, someday, we don’t know how or when, we will leave it. There. I said it. Not too directly of course because no one likes to talk about these things. Too frightening. Too confronting.
Many of us write wills to be executed upon our demise, giving very clear instructions as to what will happen to “the house, the bank account, the earrings we were given on our anniversary, the shares in the portfolio.” Yet when it comes to protecting ourselves while we are alive, we tend to be more reticent.
Most of us have heard of a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) known in Hebrew as a Yipui Koach Mitmashech.
But what does it really mean? A DPOA is a power of attorney that authorizes a fiduciary or proxy to take care of certain matters for an individual – be they medical, financial or personal – in the event that the person cannot take care of these things for themselves. It remains intact if you can no longer make decisions on your own behalf due to illness or cognitive decline. Most of us are afraid of not being in control as we approach old age. But a DPOA ensures that even when you can no longer decide for yourself, you actually still can because you have appointed someone you trust who has your best interests at heart.
It may sound contradictory but it’s true. If you explain to someone in whom you have faith what you would want while you are still able to articulate it, then you are still in control. How great is that? What a comforting feeling to know you can still be in control of your life, albeit through a proxy.
If you wish to have a DPOA for medical, financial and personal (such as where you should live), then you need go to a lawyer to have it witnessed. (A list of lawyers who are trained in this specialist field is available on the Justice Ministry’s website at www.justice.gov.il/).

MANY PEOPLE for a variety of reasons request solely a medical POA. This can be witnessed by a social worker, nurse, doctor, psychologist or lawyer. Without a medical POA, if, God forbid, one needs medical attention such as surgery for a non-life-threatening condition, then the doctors would be unable to perform the procedure without the appointment of a guardian. A power of attorney appointed by you would make this unnecessary.
But a medical power of attorney is just that, for medical conditions and treatments. It does not apply to someone who is classified as end of life. For this there is another power of attorney or advance directives. Be sure to check with your social worker, nurse, lawyer, etc., that you have signed both medical POAs.
It cannot and should not be done in a few minutes. You and your potential proxy, as well as other family members, need to sit down quietly whereby you explain your wishes should you no longer be able to make medical decisions for yourself. It is important to know that the power of attorney comes into effect only if you can no longer make your own decisions. In other words, while you are well and able to make decisions, no one can come and make these choices on your behalf. No one wants to talk about the possibility of not being in control. Very few people like to talk about illness or end of life. Some see it as tempting fate.
Recently I had two people come to me to help them sort out a medical power of attorney. Naomi, a feisty woman in her 80s, made it very clear to her daughter that if, heaven forbid, she could not make decisions for herself, no heroic measures should be taken, within the boundaries of the law, and, in her case, Halacha.
The second woman, Clara, came into my office with her son. He was in a rush and asked me to witness the signing. I told him I wanted to be sure that he understands the way his mother thinks and feels. He smiled and responded that there is really no need. It was clear to him that she wouldn’t want heroic measures or life-prolonging treatment. Why would anyone? He certainly wouldn’t for himself.
It was then that his lovely mother glanced up and looked him in the eye. “Well,” she said emphatically “I would expect you to do everything to keep me around in this world. I plan on staying here until God decides I really need to go. “And if,” she said “you don’t think you can take my feelings and desires into consideration, then I will find someone who is up to the task.”
It is no mean feat sitting down and having that conversation. What is the Golden Rule? It is not about what your proxy would like in the circumstances but rather about what you would want. We are all different. Never assume that our desires are the same.

THESE ARE the three essential questions to ask yourself:
1. Who would I like as my proxy?
2. Why am I choosing that particular person/persons?
3. What are my biggest fears and concerns about being ill or incapacitated?
You need to choose someone who will look out for your best interests and respect your wishes. If you are the proxy then always keep in mind that It’s not about what you would like for your parent or spouse or friend. It’s about what that person would want for themselves.
We are blessed with longer lives today, due to clean water, better nutrition and of course advanced medical care. But we all want our longer lives to be healthy ones. So eat well, exercise, keep busy – and for peace of mind, get those powers of attorney in place. Then in the spirit of Frank Sinatra you can rest assured that “you did it your way.” 

The writer is a geriatric social worker in Jerusalem. judyajoss@gmail.com