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If you suffered a stroke today and lost the ability to speak, would your spouse, children or parents have the legal authority to take care of you medically or financially?
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. For 25 years, the National Stroke Association has been raising awareness about the causes and results of stroke through this annual campaign.
Stroke is a brain attack, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, according to the NSA, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death. About 795,000 people in the United States will have a stroke this year.
According to the NSA, many strokes could be prevented by practicing healthy habits such as eating right, exercising, managing cholesterol levels and diabetes and not smoking or drinking heavily. But some strokes, including those in healthy young adults and children, are unpredictable.
As the fourth-highest cause of death in the United States, stroke will kill about 133,000 people this year, but many more will be incapacitated due to coma or aphasia, which is a partial or total loss of ability to talk, understand what people say, read or write. About 1 million people in the United States have aphasia. Most cases are the result of stroke, according to the NSA. About 25 to 40 percent of stroke survivors acquire aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association.
If you were incapacitated by stroke, would your loved ones be able to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf? Keep in mind that just because you are married, that doesn’t necessarily give your spouse the legal right to make decisions for you. Your loved ones may have to petition the court to be appointed your legal guardian.
However, there is another way. If you set up an advance directive for health care, you can rest assured that the person whom you trust most will be in charge should you be unable to speak for yourself. According to a recent article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, only 26 percent of people have an advance directive for health care.
In Georgia, an advance directive for health care combines a health-care proxy and a living will. You also may want a durable power of attorney. You can assign one or more people to assume the duties for each.
A durable power of attorney gives someone legal authority to make financial decisions on another’s behalf. A health-care proxy, as an advance directive is sometimes called, similarly appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf but regarding medical treatment rather than finances.
A qualified estate planning attorney can help you set up an advance directive and a durable power of attorney. These documents do not expire, but it is recommended that you update them every couple of years for your and your family’s peace of mind. You will want to make sure that the person whom you designated as your proxy still is the best choice, and your family will want to know that your directive still reflects your current wishes.

Barid of Richmond Hill and Smith are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC. Call 912-352-3999 or email or

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