Importance of Advance Directives
This past week we saw National Healthcare Decisions Day. This initiative was started in the State of Virginia and was taken nationwide in 2008. I am unspeakably grateful that the founders of this movement. Their efforts have greatly raised awareness of the need to have family conversations about end of life decisions.
Most people haven’t talked about these matters, nor will they. I have been practicing law for 30+ years. I have witnessed many occasions where lack of communication between family members has led to much confusion and uncertainty. When it comes to end of life decisions – the emotions are much higher. Failure to discuss directives in advance often causes unnecessary grief – even family battles – when a Loved One’s life ends.
This is a very emotional time. When standing in front of a loved one who is dying, you may likely be full of conflicting emotions. Likewise, you probably have strongly held opinions as to what should happen next. To make matters worse, there are also siblings and other family members. They likely hold strong opinions which may or may not agree with what you firmly believe.
A Few Tips from National Healthcare Decisions Day
- Decide what you want. Do you want the doctors and medical team to try everything, nothing, or something in between? End of life decisions should be yours to make. Yours and yours alone!
- Decide who you want to make decisions for you. If you can’t make this decision yourself, who do you want to make the decision for you. Once you have made the decision, inform them of your choices and desires. Then, let your family know who you have designated as your agent under your Health Care Power of Attorney. (The official title and terminology may differ in your state.)
- Face to face conversations with your agent and with your family are crucial. However it’s important to put it in writing so that you have a legal document stating your intent that can be presented to the medical team when needed.
How specific should advance directive be?
It can be broad, giving your appointed agent a lot of leeway or it can be very specific. It’s usually wise to never say “always” or “never” because you never know what will happen. For example, perhaps you say, “I never want to be on a ventilator!” What if you were in a car accident and needed something to get you through that medical crisis? I have seen instances over the years where people were “hung by the tongue”. Definitive statements may have been made in the comfort of their home or lawyer’s office never fully considering what could happen that would make another course of action seem more appropriate in a time of crisis.
Instead it may be wise to talk about things that are important to you, such as the ability to maintain family relationships or your religious beliefs. When you have the discussion with your attorney, you may want to ask that some of these wishes and beliefs be incorporated into your end of life directives.
The good news is that you can revisit this and you can change your documents over time. You not only have the power to change your documents, you also have power to revoke.
Just have the Conversation!
Just having a conversation is a place to start. A national event like National Healthcare Decisions Day is the perfect excuse to get started. Today would be a great day to have the discussion. (Any day is a great day!) However if your family will be in over the holidays, that will also work. Some have this discussion at the Thanksgiving table – but whatever day you pick, just do it.
Whenever you have the full family discussion, please don’t put off the taking action part (reference the 3 Tips above). It’s important to take action now.
For more information, go to the Conversation Project website, read their content and watch their video. The mission of the Conversation Project is to encourage families to have conversations with their Loved Ones about their end of life wishes.
Please have an end of life conversation with your Loved Ones today.
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Ok. That might come off a little fast, considering we barely know each other. However, we fully understand the stress and turmoil that you are facing as Family Caregiver. Our own experiences have given us great wisdom and insight that has translated into many a caregiver solution! Our personal experiences have fueled our message about the necessity of planning.
In our time as caregivers, we have amassed a wealth of knowledge that we desire to pass on. Likewise, we have met many professional caregivers, as well as other family members who were likewise thrust as Family Caregivers. All caregivers have shared the same advice – Join a community!
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Thank You for being a Caregiver for Your Loved One – you are making a huge difference in their life!