A recent survey unveiled a few surprising mindsets in America and how we handle end of life matters. It’s being called “conversation disconnect” and it shows that 90 percent of us know we should have an end of life conversation with our loved ones, yet less than 30 percent of us have made that effort. The Conversation Project conducted the survey and as estate planning lawyers, we know all too well the awkwardness and uncertainty about discussing our final wishes with our family members. But we also know the importance of those talks.
Proper legal planning includes making those decisions relating to end of life realities. Living wills are important documents to have as they provide in detail your expectations and who you trust to ensure those expectations are met in your final days.
Ellen Goodman, Founder of The Conversation Project explains, “We have arrived at something of a sea change. Americans now overwhelmingly agree that it’s important to talk with our loved ones about how we want to live at the end of our days. Yet, we still find it hard to begin those conversations,” stated Ellen Goodman, Founder of The Conversation Project. “We need to close the gap so that people will die in the way they would choose.”
The reasons why so many Americans are hesitant about having those conversations might surprise you. One third of those surveyed say they’re too young to worry about death. Another 21 percent say they don’t want to make their loved ones feel uncomfortable. The discomfort factor for themselves accounts for another 20 percent of those surveyed. Many admitted to hoping someone else would bring the subject up and they also agreed that they’d welcome the opportunity provided they don’t have to start the conversation.
A living will can memorialize those wishes, but they don’t eliminate the need to let family members know that it exists and what it reveals. Along with that, a medical power of attorney should also be part of an estate plan. These too are often difficult to broach. This is what allows you to name someone you trust to make medical decisions if you’re unable to do so. Its challenges are found in the “what if” factor. Whomever you choose must be willing to adhere to your wishes. That person isn’t always shouldering the decision making, but rather, ensuring the decisions you’ve already made are honored. Of course, there are those times when he must decide for you – if, for instance, you’re in an accident.
We know how important these talks are. We also know the family anguish of not having a living will. In fact, meeting with your estate planning lawyer to update your living will and overall estate plan can be a great way to bring the subject up with your family. Those who did have such a conversation say they felt as though the burden wasn’t as heavy as it could have been. A full 63 percent say they were able to move forward with the tough choices when they know they were honoring a loved one’s request. Nearly 40 percent are confident that loved one passed at peace with his choices.
It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to ensure one’s values are respected when it comes to his end of life care in terms of what’s acceptable and what is not. According to Goodman, it’s a team effort and when everyone from estate planning lawyers to health care providers to the family can unite with a common interest of protecting the client/patient/family member, then everyone knows those wishes were honored.
If you’ve not yet included these important legal documents as part of your total estate plan, now’s the time to put the wheels in motion.