Originally Posted by f40ph
In this era of "H.I.P.A.A.", it will take some time to get those records and the glasses will be long gone.
It might work far different in a metro area, but I needed a copy of two years worth of medical records for an elderly man with Alzheimer's that I now have the power of attorney (POA) for. The need for these records was prior to having the POA. There is a HIPAA compliant permission form a person signs authorizing a third party to access to the information listed on the form and for a specified time period. I took that to the hospital and had copies of the file within a half hour.
With a POA you can access everything, as long as the POA is written to include access to these types of files. The POA does not have a time limit unless it is specified in the document and it gives full access to everything just as if you were the person who signed the POA over to you. Some entities require that you send a copy of the POA to them for their attorneys to review and approve, but I haven't had one yet that took over two weeks to do this.
I would suggest that anyone who takes care of an elderly person get one right away. If this person is unconscious or incapacitated, not having one can present some huge challenges when helping a person administer their life. An attorney prepared one for my friend with Alzheimer's (he has no family so my wife and I unofficially adopted him when he first started having cognitive problems) and I just scanned it and edited it to use it for my mom. I would recommend that you get an attorney for the first one as there can be differences depending on the county as well as changes being made all the time.
When a person becomes incapacitated having the POA is essential for moving around money and other assets to cover large medical bills, listing a house for sale or lease and selling vehicles. It is also a good idea to change checking and savings accounts as well as CDs to joint accounts. That makes it real smooth for getting funds into checking when the need arises. This doesn't take a POA to accomplish as long as the person is still able to sign and have forms notarized. The same thing holds true for the POA, you must have it signed and notarized while the person is still legally able to do so.
One other suggestion is to put together what I called a "travel file" for each person. It contains copies of the trust, will and POA, the account numbers of everything the person has, copies of monthly bills in case you have to change those over to your name to insure they get paid, a copy of the assisted living facility contract and lastly, funeral/burial wishes. In my case my mother lived 328 miles away and I often needed this information to quickly and effectively act on her behalf. I could grab this file as I left the house and knew that whatever came up, I would have the necessary information and documents I needed when I might not be able to think clearly when I had to leave on very short notice. I was very careful when carrying this file even though I did not have passwords and Social Security in it. I have an "encrypted" system for passwords that allows me to carry the prompts for those around.
A POA that is sufficient to get you access to bank accounts, live insurance policies and similar might not stand up in court if things get messy, such as disagreement of a family member with how you are administering the affairs of another family member. It may seem costly to hire an attorney, but it pales when compared to the cost of not having one when it is needed. 90% of a POA is boilerplate and that is why they seem costly. My wife and I already have one for the successor trustee of our trust that kicks in if either one of us cannot administer the affairs of our spouse or the both of us due to incapacity. I don't think it is ever too soon for an adult to have one drawn up. After a person is no longer a dependent legal authority for someone make decisions on your behalf is critical if something happens. At the very least every adult should have a health care power of attorney drawn up.
I've also purchased pre-need funeral plans using each persons assets. It fixes the cost of these services and as well, assures me that I can call 24/7 and have the body taken care of. I can't imagine getting "that call" in the middle of the night and then looking through the yellow pages to take care of things. That is when you can get taken advantage of. The travel files have copies of that plan (contract) in them.
I'm not even qualified to be a "outhouse lawyer," but I'm making suggestions based on experience. I've been through one POA and successor trustee situation following a death and am in the POA stage for my dear friend. I have all this experience now, but won't need any of it (knock on wood) after my friend succumbs to Alzheimer's. My mother and my friend had to go into assisted living within two weeks of each other. Without a lot of pre-work and discussions with each person far in advance of this event, the task of two at once would have been nearly impossible. Having the travel file organized and with me presented a credible and professional appearance and often greased the skids when needed.
It is good to know that even with a large fire department some information from an incident is accessible. I would think that most is public information with the exception of names and anything else that should be private. I've been though two "EMS-insurance company billing debacles" and have had to request fire department records to resolve them. One was in Mono County and the other involved LAFD. Both were very efficient and timely getting me what I needed to resolve the insurance claims. For the most part everyone I've dealt with in administering the affairs of others have been very helpful and sympathetic, including county recorder's offices in metro areas and distant investment and insurance firms. I think everyone understands what you are going through and wants to make it as easy as possible.
I should also add that my experiences with the LAFD were fantastic. The dispatchers/call takers, paramedics/EMTs and records/billing personnel were all personable and knowledgeable. It was not quite what one receives in a small county (12,500 people) where you've lived for 31 years, but reasonably and surprisingly close.