or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/09

   September 19th, 2009

band-aid boyA woman walks up to the desk and says that she needs blank Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy forms. Internally I cringe, because legal forms always have the potential to be problematic.

I took her over to our Forms on File sets, and we found a Power of Attorney form, but no Health Care Proxy. While she made photocopied, I went back to the desk to keep searching for the other form.

I didn't find anything in the few minutes it took her to make copies. But, when she came back to the desk, she started to tell me more of the story:

  • The forms were actually for her son
  • Who will be deploying to Afghanistan soon
  • And who lives in Vermont
  • But she lives in Massachusetts
  • And Vermont doesn't have Health Care Proxy, they call it a Living Will
  • If anything happens to him, she'll want the son brought to a hospital in MA
  • The son doesn't want to think about any of this, and so isn't helping or doing any research
  • Her husband is driving up next week and wants to bring all this paperwork with him so the son can just sign it

Oh. I don't know this for sure, but when she mentioned he was deploying to Afghanistan, I suggested that the military should be able to help take care of all these issues and forms before he deploys. Not to mention that if he is hurt, she might not have a choice where he goes to recover.

Which was all well and good, but she still wanted these forms. However, neither of us knew if she'd need Massachusetts forms or Vermont forms. Then she said she had some errands to run, and would come back later that afternoon to pick up whatever I found.

mass med logoOkay. I decided the first thing to do was to call Massachusetts Health and Human Services, to see if they knew which form the son would need, and if they had the forms on their website. The woman I spoke with said she had no idea on either count, but said she actually was just looking for the Health Care Proxy form the week before for her own parents, and did find it online. However, it was on a different computer in her office, but she'd email it to me in an hour when she was back at that desk. And she wasn't sure, but she thought she found it on the Massachusetts Medical Society's website.

So I search the web again for health care proxy form massachusetts medical association and found their Health Care Proxy information page, and a link to the form itself [pdf].

Since they make the form available, I thought I'd call them, too, and ask them the MA/VT question. I do, but the woman on the phone has no idea. She said it's up to the hospital itself to honor the form, and she thought that any hospital in the country would, regardless of which state it came from. She did verify Vermont calls it a Living Will, but wasn't sure what the difference was.

VTmd logoSo I went back to the internet searching for living will form vermont (found one [pdf]) and the Vermont Medical Society. I called them, too, and again the answer I got was, "I don't know. That's a good question."

This woman confirmed that the form I found would be okay, and also said that every doctor's office in Vermont will have copies of the form, too, so they should check with his local doctor. And she also felt that the military would be able to provide all of the paperwork the son would need, and she recommended the parents start there.

Shortly thereafter the woman returned, and I conveyed everything I found. She didn't think it was likely that the military or local doctor would be much help, since her son was avoiding this topic, so she was happy to have copies of the different forms - even if she didn't know which she needed.

It bothers me when, after helping someone, all I can do is hope they have the right information.

And shortly after she left, the forms the woman from the MA-HHS emailed me arrived. Happily, it was the same one I found on the MassMed website.

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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/13/09”

  1. somcak Says:

    From experience, I can tell you the military can provide these forms for the service member and family. Prior to deployment, the service member will be given an opportunity to meet with legal services. As a law librarian, I have to say you did an awesome job finding these forms! It’s the exact way I would go about it – looking in the form books first and then the online resources. Don’t forget, every county has a law library, with law librarians who assist the public with questions like these everyday!

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  3. Liz Says:

    In addition to somcak’s suggestions (awesome btw!), it might be helpful to find out if there are any low-cost or free legal clinics in your area. If not, most law schools have one, so you could contact your nearest law school(s).

    While there are often fill-in-the-blank forms you can use, filling them out and signing them doesn’t necessarily make them enforceable instruments of law. It might be good to establish contact with someone in the state who can help you with occasional legal issues, or to whom you could refer patrons who need basic legal advice or assistance.

    But I have to agree, you did a amazingly thorough job and found excellent resources! Well done sir.