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Commentary Search

Don't wait to obtain crucial documents

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
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 held 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 one in September when they needed my help, but the hospital could not tell me about their medical situation or their medications. "I'm their family member," I said.

The nurse said that unless I had a 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 too, but the banks and companies would not give me their account information. I had to provide a financial power of attorney in order to see their mortgage and car payments as well as 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 there are some simple, boilerplate legal documents that can help protect my family and me.

· The National Healthcare Decisions Day web site, 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 web site 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 the distribution of 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 web site 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.

The problem, I thought, was not the 13-hour drive or the emergency-leave but rather 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, 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 down 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 a discussion that identified all of 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.