Scared of What I Said Yes To

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just agreed to be primary power of attorney for medical directives for

my brother and sister-in- law, both frail and aging with various

ailments. Their only child moved abroad and we all agreed it made

sense to have it be someone in the States. While 1500 miles away

isn’t optimal, it beats nine time zones and three languages away. How

can I prepare to cope in case of emergencies?

Scared of What I Said Yes To


Dear Scared:

Your fear is reasonable. There are also reasonable precautions you can

take. Here’s some solid steps you can start with, adapting as

necessary for personal circumstances:

Get a list of all their doctors (including address/phone/fax) plus a list

of all medications and a list of times hospitalized, date, reason, name

of hospital. Send copies of your power of attorney/medical authority to

each of the docs and ask that it be placed in the file. Ask your brother

and sister-in- law to sign a privacy release at each office so the docs

can speak directly to you. Get copies/numbers of all medical insurance

plans (including Medicare, supplemental, etc and the name/number of

their agent), plus life, long-term care, etc. Ask about end-of- life

instructions, and medical directives: where are they kept? Who has

copies? Get those to their attorney and doctors as well. Have the same

papers on file with your attorney. Ask they keep the medical info in a

labeled envelope posted on the fridge, though not where they’ll it see

every time they reach for some milk.


Then to operations. Know the basics about how their household work.

How are bills received (mail, online) and paid (mail, online, auto)?

What are their driver’s license numbers? Model/color/year/license of

car. Who has keys to house/car? Are you prepared to lay out your own

money In an emergency? Perhaps some document that says you will

be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. The money issues are

something you should discuss with your attorney to be clear about

what responsibilities, and rights, you are taking on.


Get the name of a trusted family friend who’s willing to pitch in if

there’s an emergency. Someone more mobile and healthier than they

are. Make sure s/he has all your access info and will check in on them

from time to time. In a crunch, you may have to pay her to help or

have her find care, Finally, everyone’s favorite: Ask if they’ve

considered issues related to long-term care outside their home. If they

haven’t encourage them to take some field trips, perhaps with the

friend, encourage them to do so.


This is a big responsibility. The biggest thing to be afraid of is the

unpredictability. Make sure you have all the daughter’s contact info

and warn her that she’s still 24/7 too.