.Advance care planning is not a subject that most of us want to spend time discussing. But if you are 18 years of age or older, there are few things more important than documenting your wishes to guide your loved ones in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. It’s time to start looking at advance directives as the way to promote Choice and Empowerment and not dwell on death and dying.
When you approach advance directives as an empowering process that respects your right to choose, the documents take on a whole new meaning. Instead of planning for your death, you are providing your family with a clear picture of the decisions you would make if you were able. Partnering with an elder law attorney to draft these documents and memorialize your wishes is a gift that keeps on giving – to yourself and to your family.
What are the 5 Most Important Planning Documents to Consider?
Nobody wants to be in a position where they can’t communicate for themselves. Advance Directives offer you the opportunity to speak for yourself, even when you are physically unable to communicate. These are the five specific documents you want to have on hand to help guide your family.
5 Important Planning Documents
Last Will and Testament
Living Will and Designation of Health Care Surrogate
Declaration Naming Preneed Guardian
Durable Power of Attorney
Why Don’t People Execute Advance Directives?
Advance Directives are often seen as documents for older people or wishes written hastily to loved ones while laying on our deathbeds. Proper planning doesn’t have to be quite that dramatic. It is an empowering process for anyone who takes the time to thoughtfully consider their end-of-life and treatment wishes while they have the ability.
Reasons People Don’t Plan Ahead
- Lack of comfort discussing end-of-life
1. Education about end-of-life care is just as important as education about advance directives.
A conversation about advance directives is all about timing. No one wants to be perceived as the bearer of bad news, so introducing advance directives when preparing for surgery or making significant healthcare decisions can have the appearance of “giving up hope.” Planning when you are healthy gives you the opportunity to educate yourself about end-of-life care and make the choices that are best for you.
Studies show that the education of the general public and healthcare providers can be barriers to advance care planning. Perhaps it is misinformation about what advance directives are and what they are not. Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge surrounding how to approach end-of-life discussions and what end-of-life care means and looks like. Education is key and discussing end-of-life options with a legal professional will help you better understand your options and create a plan you can live with.
2. Death is an uncomfortable subject.
Facing your own mortality can be a lot to wrap your head around. It’s certainly not a topic we create themed parties around or the subject of choice at dinner with friends. Surprisingly few professionals receive formal training on approaching the subject of death and dying. Additionally, there are some families that just don’t want to talk about it.
Discussing end-of-life plans can be more difficult when end-of-life seems imminent. When faced with a family member declining from serious health issues, our first instinct is often to stay optimistic, and planning for death seems far too negative. By making plans when we are healthy, we provide guidance and direction to our family at a time when our words might be the only thing to bring them comfort.
3. Cultural factors can be hard to understand.
There are many cultural differences that impact advance care planning. Where we grew up, how we grew up, life experiences, religious backgrounds…. These are only a few differences that factor into the individual choices each of us makes. Cultural influences can make advance care planning discussions even more important to be sure traditions are respected.
For one culture, “doing everything you can to keep them comfortable” can mean calling on a village of friends and family to provide care and take care of every need until your loved one’s last breath. For another, “doing everything” can mean employing all forms of medical treatment and technology to extend life. Threfore, making your wishes specific and in writing is the best way to communicate your cultural preferences. Approach the end of life in a way that best represents you.
Can I Change My Advance Directives?
Advance directives should be reviewed for potential changes on a regular basis. If you executed your directives when you were younger, your views about end-of-life issues may have changed, and any affected documents should be updated. In fact, an actual medical event may give you pause and have you taking another look at the plans you have in place.
5 Reasons to Review Your Planning Documents
Decade (at least every ten years)
Can I Draft My Own Advance Directives?
Short answer – please don’t. There are so many reasons why it is not a good idea to download documents or buy blank templates from the office supply store. In Florida, one of the main reasons is the requirement of “superpowers” within the durable power of attorney document.
If you pride yourself on successful DIY projects, these documents are not the place to flex. Unlike a DIY home repair, your own advance directives cannot be easily fixed when done incorrectly. In fact, fixing DIY documents – and any resulting problems that arise from them – can be more expensive than getting them done by a legal professional from the start!
Did you know that online services like LegalZoom® and RocketLawyer® even have disclaimers telling you that they are not a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney? And that the information received via their website should not be relied upon for personal, medical, legal, or financial decisions? Small print can be a very big deal!
LegalZoom ® disclaimers:
“LegalZoom, its Services, and its forms or templates are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney.”
“LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all of the information on the Site or Applications is completely current.”
“…is not intended as a substitute for an attorney, accountant, accounting firm, or law firm.”
As you age, an elder law attorney will be a pivotal member of your Circle of Concern. Find a legal professional that listens to your wishes and cares about protecting the ones you love. Advance directives can provide a positive path forward in your aging plan and help you maintain a rich quality of life.
Their expertise in empowering people with the ability to choose is one of the many reasons that Elder Law Attorneys are one of the Resources We Love. They are devoted and advocate for their clients to create a comfortable environment for hard conversations. Learn more about Elder Law Attorneys in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.