By thinking ahead and communicating medical treatment preferences early on, your loved ones can prevent the anxiety of having to guess your wishes by some simple steps in planning ahead. More importantly, he or she will have the opportunity to make very personal health care decisions for themselves. So what is an advance directive? An advance directive is a written statement of your wishes, preferences and choices regarding end-of-life medical decisions.
To record medical preferences, your loved one will need to complete an advance directive in writing. There are two types of advance directives, and it is imperative to have both:
- Living Will: A living will is a legal document that illustrates what types of medical treatment a person wants at the end of life in the event they are unable to speak for themselves. It also informs medical professionals of an individual’s wish regarding specific decisions, such as whether to accept mechanical ventilation.
- Medical Power of Attorney (POA): A POA is a legal document that designates whom the patient has elected to make decisions regarding their medical care. The appointed health care agent (also called health care proxy, health care surrogate, or durable power of attorney for health care) is authorized to speak ONLY if the patient is unable to make their own medical decisions. This individual becomes the patient’s spokesperson and advocate on a range of medical matters. A durable power of attorney for health care differs from a regular durable power of attorney, which typically handles financial matters.
Many states combine the two forms into one document, which can be used to record one’s treatment preferences and name a health care advocate. The person appointed should know the person well and be willing to carry out the directions regardless of personal feelings. Two people must witness the signing of your advance directive form. A witness cannot be anyone who:
- Is related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption
- Is entitled to any portion of your estate
- Has a claim against any portion of your estate
- Has direct financial responsibility for your medical care
- Has a controlling interest or is an employee of a residential facility in which you reside
If you are a resident of a long-term health center, one of the witnesses must be designated as a patient advocate or ombudsperson by the Department of Health and Social Services. An advance directive does not require an attorney and are free of charge for families.
Planning for your family’s future after you are gone is not an easy task, but one that is imperative to handle. Receiving news that you or a loved one has an illness that will eventually lead to end of life care is not something anyone is prepared to hear, and planning for your family’s future is surely not your first thought. As difficult as it is to think ahead about how your family will move forward without you, I can say to you that I wish my father had done more planning due to what I had to go through since his death.
I cannot stress the importance of planning ahead so that you can put your mind at ease and focus on those important goodbyes. By planning ahead, you will also make the financial, legal and practical consequences of illness and death much easier for your family.
Here’s a checklist of things to consider, whether you are facing the end of life now, or you want to plan for your future end of life care.
- Legal and financial matters – Do not leave chaos behind for others to clean up. This can cause disputes and arguments between family members. This is the reason a will or trust is first on the planning list.
- Organ donation – You can donate any organ or tissue you choose, including your brain, to science, especially if you feel strongly about the research that may help future cures for illnesses such as cancer or dementia. If this is an option for you, make sure you write it down or make it an Advance Decision, and tell your family.
- Make a plan for what you want when you die – plan the type of care you’d like to receive towards the end of your life. This includes where you’d like to spend your final days. This is important to do earlier rather than later in case you are unable to make decisions for yourself in the future. You can do this by making an Advance Decision (a living will). This can be made by anyone of sound mind over 18 years old.
- Consider how you would like to be remembered – what would you like people to know before you die? Are there personal messages you would like to leave for those you love? Maybe you’d like to leave a video, or create a memory box including things that were special to you through the years.
- Plan your funeral arrangements – have you thought about whether you would prefer to be buried or cremated? Think about what kind of service you would like, and whether you want it to be more of a celebration of your life or a conventional service. What songs, readings, and scriptures would you like? Type or write everything you want to happen and give it to someone you can count on to see your wishes through.
Whether it’s you or a loved one nearing the end of life, planning ahead is not pushing the end button, but can be something that not only gives you peace of mind, but will also help your loved ones deal with life without you. The loss of a loved one can be tough, and planning ahead helps you focus on the life you have left to live and allows for a chance to let your loved ones grieve in peace once you’re gone.
For information on planning to help your family move forward, please contact Kenya George at 614-451-6700 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kenya can also offer information on additional services and care offered at Hospice Services at Methodist Eldercare.