The What And Why Of Advance Directives
People often don’t know about them until the situation is less than ideal. We want to change that. Part of happier aging is planning for your future so everything doesn’t come crashing down without you and your loved ones being prepared. When you think about aging in place and happier aging, it’s important to remember the planning piece of the big picture. Advance directives, when properly prepared and executed, have the power to make very difficult times much easier. They can also ease today’s worries, giving you the peace of mind that allows you to live each day joyfully. Read on.
WHAT ARE ADVANCE DIRECTIVES?
You’ve probably heard stories of someone needing to give medical and/or financial direction for themselves, but were too ill or injured to carry out or express their desires. You may recall the 2005 case of Terry Schiavo that gripped the nation and ignited conversations about the need for advance directives. At the age of 25, Terri collapsed from heart failure resulting in massive brain damage that left her in a permanent vegetative state. From 1990 to 2005, Terri’s family battled over what Terri’s wishes would have been.
Have you imagined what your wishes would be should you be unable to express them at such a time? Your next step should be to prepare your advance directives. Advance directives are legal documents that spell out your wishes for end-of-life care in the event that you are unable to do so. They allow you to direct ahead of time, your family, friends, and healthcare professionals, on how you would like your care decisions to be made. Advance directives include living wills and powers of attorney.
HOW DO I GET A LIVING WILL?
Visit an attorney for a standard living will form or you can complete one on your own. One of our favorite resources is the 5 Wishes. For a small fee, you can complete a living will online or via paper. It’s easy to understand, written in everyday language, and takes a holistic approach to writing a living will. A free online option is also available from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and offers downloadable forms unique to each state. Depending on your location, specific state requirements may influence who has to sign your living will as a witness.
You are never too young to create a living will and you can always change it later. If you do make changes, be sure to provide updated copies to all those who will be involved in your care–family, friends, and healthcare professionals.
Don’t expect that you will complete your living will in one sitting. It is normal to want to discuss your feelings with loved ones and to contemplate end-of-life scenarios before committing your answers in writing. Take your time, but be sure to make the time.
WHAT IS A POWER OF ATTORNEY?
In its simplest terms, a power of attorney (POA) allows you (the principal) to decide who will act on your behalf if you become incapable of making decisions for yourself. The person who acts on behalf of you is called the agent.
While there are several different types of POAs, know that when talking about advance directives the type of POA put in place is a durable POA. What’s the difference between a durable POA and a general POA?
- A durable POA goes into effect when the principal becomes incapacitated and expires upon the principal’s death.
- By contrast, a general POA expires when a principal becomes incapacitated.
It is important to know the difference between the two and remember that when preparing advance directives you need a durable POA, not a general one.
There are two types of durable POAs–medical and financial. You may wish to have one person handle your medical decisions and another to handle your financial matters, in which case you will have both types of POAs. Or you may want to have all decisions handled by the same person, so your durable POA would give medical and financial power to one agent.
There is no better time than today to add “GET ADVANCE DIRECTIVES” to your to-do list! We know that when plans for the future are put in place, people are happier, more confident, and less stressed in their daily lives. And we all know the feeling that comes from crossing something off of a to-do list!
UPDATE: PLANNING IN THE AGE OF COVID-19
Think about the last time you reviewed your will. Do you have one? Although grim, the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has many Americans considering their end-of-life and estate plans for the first time.
Additionally, a growing number of people in the United States are beginning to evaluate how prepared they are to deal with a serious medical emergency. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, online legal websites that provide legal documents such as last will and testament forms, do-not-resuscitate forms, and living will forms have all seen significant spikes in traffic.
This increased interest in estate planning documents paints a dramatic picture of just how frightening this virus is, and illustrates how many Americans are choosing to take control of the situation now rather than later. Whether you’re new to planning your estate or already have existing documents on file, filling out the proper estate planning forms is a good precaution for everyone. Learn more about estate planning in the age of COVID-19.
Special thanks to Jeanne Dukes of Lewes Counseling for contributing to this piece.