For most of us, end of life decisions, those issues relating to medical care and advanced directives to doctors and health care providers, are among the most difficult to discuss. They carry their intimations of illness and mortality along with them like so much excess baggage, and grow increasingly heavier as we age. In addition, there are religious beliefs and moral considerations that are deeply personal, and these can result in conflict between spouses, parents, children, and siblings. It’s a shame, because this kind of discord can be easily prevented.
There is a particular, state specific legal document that allows each one of us to convey to our family and physicians our wishes regarding medical choices and decisions when confronted with a serious illness. This document, often called a living will, is frequently paired with another document, a health care power-of-attorney. The power-of-attorney appoints another person as your agent and permits them to make important medical decisions for you, if you are not able. It may be used in a variety of medical situations, and is certainly not limited to those when end of life decisions are involved. The living will, however, addresses issues more specific to life support and extraordinary efforts to revive. These decisions are rarely as clear cut as we would like to think, and without having your wishes in writing, a spouse or other family member can be placed in an almost untenable situation trying to make decisions. If you are currently working with an attorney to rewrite or update your will or family trust, this is an ideal opportunity to have a living will and health care power- of-attorney prepared.
“Aging with Dignity”, a non-profit organization headquartered in Tallahassee Florida, also has a unique solution that may help many South Carolinians. ”Aging With Dignity” was founded in 1996 with initial support from The Claude Pepper Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The following year they developed and made available a document called “Five Wishes”, which they characterize as “a living will with a heart and soul.” This document meets the legal requirements for an advanced directive in 42 states including South Carolina, and is available in multiple translations, bi-lingual versions, as well as in Braille.
“Five Wishes” includes provisions covering both a living will and health care power-of-attorney, as you would expect, but it also has a third section. This section lists many decisions and requests that involve non-medical issues, but are certainly part of the concerns of a seriously ill patient. These requests, which outline, among other things, quality of care and day to day comfort concerns for the patient, are designed to allow an individual patient a greater feeling of control.
“Five Wishes” can be ordered online at www.Agingwithdignity.org. The cost is $5.00, and it is available at reduced cost for larger orders. There is also a special version specifically written for children. Also available on their website is a book called “Next Steps” which is a guide to discussing serious illness, and includes information on completing “Five Wishes”, as well as help with speaking and making your concerns known to family members and your doctor. “Next Steps” also includes valuable guidance if you are named as a health care power-of-attorney for another, to help you better understand and fulfill your obligations in dealing with the patient, physicians and health care personnel, and family members.
Steven Weber is the senior investment advisor and Gloria Harris Director of Client Services for The Bedminster Group, providing investment management, estate, and financial planning services. The information contained herein was obtained from sources considered reliable. Their accuracy cannot be guaranteed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those from any other source.