It’s impossible to predict how our lives will end – but careful planning can ensure that there’s always a plan in place, regardless of what is to come. While this might seem excessive, most Americans agree that planning for end-of-life care is important.
However, few do what’s necessary to create a plan to begin with. Planning for end-of-life care doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, but it can be difficult to consider emotionally.
Many get hung up on the idea that they’ll prepare a potential advance directive when they feel their time is near, but none of us can determine exactly when that time might be. It’s important to remember that while these are important documents, they can be amended, rewritten, overwritten, altered.
Your end-of-life care decisions must reflect your current beliefs, values, and priorities – if you ended up in a coma today, what would you want your family to do? What extraordinary measures would you allow, and which would you rule out? Who should decide on your well-being in your place?
There’s never a time when we want these to answer these questions. But their importance cannot be understated.
With Thanksgiving coming up, we are fast approaching the perfect time of the year for reviewing what’s most important to us, and gratefully acknowledging the love and respect we’ve earned from those we care about over the years – why not take a moment to consider setting up an estate plan and advance directive, so if anything does happen, you can depart with gratitude and grace?
Why Write an Advance Directive?
Advance directives are written documents that encapsulate your wishes, regarding certain healthcare decisions and palliative care. These documents try to capture your wishes in the most accurate and comprehensive manner, so medical staff and your family can know what you would have decided to do in a given situation.
An advance directive gives your family an idea of what you would do, should you be unable to make that choice for yourself at any given point in time. It’s important to give your idea the best and most accurate possible idea of your ideals, wishes, and concerns, in order to give them a framework by which to make critical decisions regarding your healthcare.
This is because being forced to make critical decisions about a loved one’s health without knowing what they would have wanted to do is about as stressful as losing everything you possess – while it’s always incredibly stressful to watch a loved one potentially pass away, and struggle with incapacity, there’s a big difference between never knowing what you might have wanted, and having a clear written and signed reference.
However, it’s impossible to foresee all potential outcomes and circumstances. It’s in these cases that it becomes important to consider giving a trusted loved one a durable or springing power of attorney.
The Role of a Power of Attorney (POA)
A power of attorney, usually separated into either a financial power of attorney or a healthcare power of attorney, is a document signed by a principle (you) and an agent (the person who receives the power of attorney), designed to allow the agent to act in the name of the principle.
- A power of attorney is best written and carefully reviewed by a reputable and experienced legal professional, as these documents can be written with any number of restrictions in mind.
- Durable power of attorney documents ensure that the agent can continue to act in your name even if you are incapacitated. A normal power of attorney is not valid if the principle cannot be contacted or spoken to or is incapacitated.
- A springing power of attorney specifically only goes into effect if the principle is incapacitated. It is much more limited in that regard. All power of attorney documents are rendered obsolete when their principle dies.
What About a Living Will?
A living will is very different from a last will and testament. It’s a document that aims to leave clear instructions regarding medical treatment in specific circumstances.
An advance directive often consists of a living will, and the two terms may be interchangeable in certain context. Unlike a regular will, a living will only applies to your ‘will’, as in your wishes given specific circumstances.
Living wills are particularly useful in cases where a certain genetic disorder or terminal illness is likely to take your life. In its simplest form, a living will is meant to tell doctors and your loved ones whether you wish to be kept on life support if you are permanently incapacitated by a condition, injury, or disease.
The Lasting Impact of Advance End-of-Life Care Planning
A power of attorney essentially means you give someone the ability to choose for you. However, that’s different from just leaving them in the dark entirely.
Without any form of end-of-life care plan, your family will be tasked with making critical decisions regarding your continued healthcare, from whether you should stay on life support, to whether you should be ‘revived’ should your heart stop.
These questions can spark heated discussions, arguments, resentment, and cause genuine rifts between loved ones. They will begin arguing over what you would or wouldn’t have wanted, with no means to truly know whether they are wrong or right.
By sitting down with your family and discussing these crucial issues long before they become genuinely relevant, you will be able to preempt and counter these arguments, and clearly bring your wishes across.
The importance of these documents and measures is to ensure that your family has some guidance on the matter, should you be incapacitated and potentially at a medical crossroads. While it’s not very comforting, it’s much better than having no reference at all.
These are difficult topics to face, but while we are coming up on a season of merriment and joy, it’s important to remember that this is also the time to reflect and be grateful. This is the best time to come together with your loved ones to discuss important topics, and make sure no one is left out of the discussion.
While your healthcare is yours to command and decide, it’s important that the rest of the family knows how you feel, what you believe, and what you wish for. We all want a graceful and ‘good’ death, but it’s up to us to leave behind the right instructions for when the time comes.