Thinking about what will happen as the end of our life draws near is not a thought many people want to have.
But they should.
Considering the importance of making decisions about how we want things to occur is the topic of the recent National Healthcare Decisions Day. It is a time for all of us but especially our senior loved ones to consider their wishes and get them executed using a variety of different legal forms.
If your seniors have already prepared their advance directives then you will want to be sure you understand what they have decided and where these documents are kept so that you can find them when the time comes.
It is important to know who has been designated the healthcare proxy for your senior loved ones, if it is not you, so that you can maintain communication with them. If it is you then other loved ones should be made aware.
Living Will Numbers Growing
Living wills are being created by more adults than ever before, according to a recent study we read.
A living will outlines what you or your senior chooses to occur at the end of life and designates a proxy who will speak for the principal if he/she is unable to do so. Personal preferences are spelled out in this document.
The designated healthcare proxy is the one who makes sure your senior’s wishes are respected and carried out per their desires.
In 2010, 72% of the nation’s older adults had a living will or advance directive compared to 47% in 2000.
It was hoped that having a living will would mean a decrease in the rate of hospitalization in favor of hospice care but that has not evidently been the case. There has been an increase in the hospitalization rate among seniors. I don’t know that we can read a cause-and-effect relationship into that, though.
Hopefully the rise in the number of people creating advance directives means that we are all getting more comfortable discussing death and dying and willing to put our ideas in writing. We want to be a part of these decisions even when we can’t speak up for ourselves.
There is likely also some effect from highly publicized situations regarding those who did not have designations in place.
Maybe it is true that seniors want to be sure that at this time their family and caregivers are not burdened with making these decisions or handling the finances in a guessing game fashion. Having everything clearly spelled out will help family members not only do things the way they want but also with less trouble and guilt.
Advance Directives Explained
Living Will is a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent.
A do not resuscitate order, or DNR, is a medical order written by a doctor. It instructs health care providers not to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if breathing stops or if the heart stops beating.
Healthcare Power of Attorney is a legal form that allows an individual to empower another with decisions regarding his or her healthcare and medical treatment. Healthcare power of attorney becomes active when a person is unable to make decisions or consciously communicate intentions regarding treatments.
Elder Law Attorney is the specially trained professional that you and your senior will probably want to consult to help you get these documents properly executed as the regulations vary from state to state. There are several things that should be considered especially when siblings, property and assets must be distributed. An elder law attorney is skilled to provide recommendations about legal issues specific to older adults.
Completing a Living Will
This is likely going to be a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversation for you and your senior but one that you should try to broach soon. They may have already made these decisions and created the documents but you are not yet aware.
It will make things go much easier if you and everyone involved are aware of their wishes and who is responsible to carry them out so that there is no inaction or miscommunication in the future.
Some families choose to work with an attorney but other may prefer to complete documents on their own, either due to cost or because they simply feel more comfortable working that way. For those, we have found the resources offered by LegalZoom (affiliate link) are straightforward and provide what most people need.
Don’t forget to do your own paperwork and be sure there is a plan about who will care for your senior loved ones if you are unable to continue as their caregiver.