A decision by Mississippi's highest court illustrates the importance of having a power of attorney. One of the most important estate planning documents, a power of attorney allows a person you appoint -- your "attorney-in-fact" -- to make financial decisions for you should you be unable to make decisions yourself because of incapacity.
Bernadette Goodlett admitted her mother, Sarah, to a nursing home. During her stay at the nursing home, Mrs. Goodlett developed two decubitus ulcers (bed sores), which required surgery. Bernadette informed the nursing home that she was planning to sue it for negligence and sent the nursing home a medical authorization giving it permission to release Mrs. Goodlett's medical records. Due to complications from a stroke, Mrs. Goodlett was unable to sign her own name to the medical authorization. The nursing home refused to release the medical records, claiming that because Bernadette did not have a power of attorney over her mother, only Mrs. Goodlett could authorize the release of the medical records.
Bernadette sued the nursing home on behalf of her mother for negligence. The nursing home argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because Bernadette did not file a form required by state law. Bernadette argued she did not need to file the form because she had not received her mother's medical records. The trial court found that Bernadette had substantially complied with the law, and allowed the lawsuit to continue.
The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Bernadette did not have power of attorney for her mother, she was not entitled to her mother's medical records. Therefore, Bernadette could not file suit without including the required form.
Had Mrs. Goodlett given Bernadette a power of attorney before Bernadette requested the medical records, the lawsuit would have been able to proceed. It is not difficult to put a power of attorney in place, and it can make things much easier for your family if you are incapacitated.
To read the full text in the decision, click here. (If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, download it here.)
For more information about a power of attorney, click here.
To find an elder law attorney who can assist you in drafting a power of attorney, click here.