It is incredibly difficult to raise the topic of end of life considerations. At some point, someone will have to broach the subject, even if Mom or Dad have already made all of the necessary arrangements. It’s far different than retirement topics; these conversations have to do with funeral and burial arrangements, do not resuscitate orders, powers of attorney for medical decisions – the really tough topics.
If you think about it and the mindset we’re in when we plan for retirement, it’s one of those long awaited rites of passage: we’re planning to spend more time on the lake, more time with grandchildren and more time enjoying those things we’ve spent our lives working for. When the topic shifts to what happens after retirement, that’s when adult children become a bit uncomfortable and for many, it’s a sad conversation and one they’d rather avoid as long as possible.
That said, if we can step outside our emotions long enough, we can then try to approach from a perspective of honor last wishes. For instance, it’s important to know what kind of extraordinary measures Dad is willing to undergo. There are terminal illnesses, the possibility of time (and a considerable amount) being spent on a ventilator and other issues that many simply don’t want to go through nor do they want to put their families through. With so many right to die cases making headlines these days, it’s an ideal reminder that a health care proxy, living will or medical directive can serve a powerful purpose.
Our elder care lawyers encourage us to speak with our families, to understand what various documents mean in our end of life choices and what the absence of them mean, too. But what exactly are they and how do they differ?
Medical Power of Attorney
Often referred to as health care powers of attorney, these are the legal documents that spell out in detail who you want to make medical decisions on your behalf. They’re absolutely crucial in any estate plan and they can provide all involved a certain peace of mind knowing you made the decision yourself ahead of time. As elder care lawyers, we know too well the heavy burden that’s placed on family members when these documents aren’t included in a person’s long term medical plan.
Remember, you can set this up so that it’s used only when you are unable to communicate your wishes.
Advance Medical Directive
Not to be confused with a medical power of attorney, these are the documents that allow others to speak with your doctor about your condition. The new healthcare privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, puts into place strict laws about what kind of information is released on a patient. Without these directives, your loved ones may not even be able to uncover from a doctor or nurse which hospital you’re at. This isn’t a drawn out legal document, but it’s important to have so that valuable time isn’t lost when loved ones are trying to reach you.
In fact, many lawyers will strongly encourage their clients to create an advance medical directive that specifically names those persons who are entitled to access to health care information about them.
Finally, your living will provides your wishes if you become terminally ill or are in a vegetative state and unable to speak for yourself. This document provides exactly what kind of life sustaining measures you want performed – and what you don’t want. You may revoke it or change it as you see fit. It too is different from the medical power of attorney and medical directives as its purpose is different.
While these documents are important, it still doesn’t make it easier to broach the topic, but what it can do is provide an opening for an honest conversation. It may be you begin by mentioning the fact you and your spouse are going to get your estate plan in order and then casually approach Mom or Dad with a question as to, “How can we find the information in order to honor your wishes, Dad?”