Commentary: Don’t wait to obtain crucial documents

Having advanced medical directives and other documents make a family emergency more manageable.

I learned these past months that having advanced medical directives and other documents make a family emergency more manageable. It is one less issue to fix when emergencies arise.

I remembered that someone called them advanced directives during an event to provide them for families here at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center. My First Sergeant announced it many months ago in an email. It was easy to shrug them off – powers of attorney, living wills, wills, health care proxies, and a plan.

You service members who believe you will see emergencies coming and you have another day: you should know that I thought that too. I ignored it until it was too late.

I was 800 miles away from my loved ones in September when they needed my help, but the hospital could not tell me about their medical situation or medications. “I’m their family member,” I said.

The nurse said that unless I had medical power of attorney, they could not share their information until my loved one signed a medical release with my name.

I tried to manage their household finances, but the banks and companies would not give me their account information. I had to provide a financial power of attorney to see their mortgage and car payments and access what bank accounts had money to pay them.

I felt powerless to help someone I loved.

Our truisms are that everyone will face a family emergency at one point in life. We all have a mom and a dad, and some of us have brothers and sisters. Some of us also have wives or husbands, sons and daughters.

I believed that hugs and saying, “I love you,” or just listening would make the difference in someone’s recovery. I did not plan how I would take care of a loved one’s health care and finances or how they would take care of mine.

While I help defend a nation, some simple, boilerplate legal documents can help protect my family and me.

· The National Healthcare Decisions Day website, which holds awareness campaigns, states that a Health Care Power of Attorney documents the person to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself.

· A Living Will documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.

· The American Bar Association states on their website that a Financial Power of Attorney helps manage titles property, like financial accounts, a house, and a car if you cannot.

· A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that provides for distributing some or all of your property after death.

· Service members should see a base legal office or a lawyer because this article provides only a personal perspective. The Air Force Legal Assistance website for Airmen,, lists more to consider if you or a loved one become incapacitated.

The attorney gave my problem a look of familiarity in his office. He was genuinely concerned as he talked about those legal rights that I required to help my loved one. “I’ll drive out there to get them if it helps,” I said.

I thought the problem was not the 13-hour drive or the emergency-leave but instead if my loved one could sign legal papers at that point. I worried if they would understand their rights or if I could visit them.

It could be a long trip for naught, and I prayed not.

I had another battle ahead just knowing monthly bills, health insurance, lawns to cut, taxes, and going, on and on. I felt sunk from the concern of it all. I would sit and sigh at the situation, pray and call other family members for their support.

I realize now that a plan or discussion that identified that and any personal wishes ahead of time would have helped me.

“You are so strong,” someone told me. “‘I can’t imagine going through it’ or ‘take care of you too,'” I heard.

My commander visited with me, my chaplain ran with me, my supervisor allowed me time off, and my coworker cut my grass. I was grateful for their support, but as my loved one’s supporter, I realize now that I could have done more ahead of time.

By Eartheditor

Hello. I am a prior U.S. Navy sailor and photojournalist serving on active duty with the National Guard – combined, for more than 24 years. This blog features my more memorable stories and photos from that news pile as well as creative writing. All images and stories are by me unless otherwise credited. I hope to backlog more as well as write new stories. Thank you so much.
- Mike R. Smith

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