I understand that useful knowledge is often dry and boring, the learning of which is avoided at all costs. But sometimes, boring or not, there’s information out there that you or someone you know will need. Maybe not now. Maybe not tomorrow or next week or even next year. Probably not even in a game of Trivial Pursuit. But someday, when you least expect it, you’re going to be glad you have it. One such tidbit is about to be imparted.
I have tried my best to figure out a way to make this subject entertaining or, at the very least, readable without inducing sleep, because it’s really important stuff. But I seem to be emulating Don Quixote as he tilted at windmills. It is an impossible dream to think that an epistle on the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare could make the Top 10 Best Seller list. But maybe, if you have insomnia one night, it can be of use.
So, I’m going to cut to the chase and get straight to the meat of the matter. There is one document and ONLY one document that a funeral home in Tennessee, without fail, will rely upon when someone other than the legal next of kin is trying to arrange a funeral—and that’s a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. There are several fill-in-the-blank versions that you can do on your own but it must be notarized (by a notary) or witnessed by two people, one of whom is not related to the person granting the powers and will not benefit from their death, as in get any of their stuff when they’re gone. If you visit an attorney for assistance in creating one, insist that it be a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. Accept NO substitutes.
We’ve had a lot of families come in with an Appointment of Healthcare Agent that is generally completed when someone who is of sound mind but not necessarily sound body enters a hospital or nursing home. THIS DOCUMENT DOES NOT WORK FOR FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS. Yes, I yelled that because people hear the word “healthcare” and think they’ve got exactly what they need. They do for healthcare decisions. They don’t for funeral decisions. If the party assisting in the completion proceeds to the second document in this series, The Advance Care Directive, then you’re good to go . . . literally. But that page is more involved and is usually not done when the healthcare agent paperwork is completed.
Lately we’ve had a few Five Wishes programs arrive on our doorstep. This is a twelve page booklet that goes into great detail regarding how someone wants to be treated prior to death (including the desire to have a “cool moist cloth put on my head if I have a fever”, to have “my favorite music played when possible until my time of death”, and the desire to “have religious readings and well-loved poems read aloud when I am near death”) but allows for very little detail regarding what happens after that. Although the opening pages state that this document can replace a living will or durable power of attorney for healthcare in multiple states, the people who created the program have readily admitted that they never intended for it to have any impact on the legalities that seem to crop up after death. I have personal knowledge of said admission because I called them when we received our first copy from a non-family member desiring to make funeral arrangements for someone. And we were clueless as to what it was. Even our State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers (my next stop after the Five Wishes folks) had never heard of it.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived together for 30 years. In the state of Tennessee, if you aren’t legally married then you aren’t married. Period. (Disclaimer—If your common law marriage was legally recognized in another state and you move to Tennessee, it counts.) It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken care of their every need for the last 30 years. If you aren’t the legal next of kin we may have a long list to go through before we get to you. And that’s a legal list. As in one that’s specified in the law. And a time-consuming list. As in a minimum 72 hour wait for each level of kinship. By the time we get down to “any other person willing to assume the responsibilities” we will have waited at least 792 hours. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 33 days. So, what it all boils down to is this. If at some point in the future you want or will need to make funeral arrangements for someone when you are not the legal next of kin, then you need to have them sign a DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTHCARE now. Walk in with that document correctly completed and there’ll be no questions asked. You get to be large and in charge. And we’ll be eternally grateful that you took the time to be certain all your ducks were in a nice, neat row.