According to the CDC, around 60 percent of U.S. adults have no plan in place for the end of their lives. Consequently, close friends and family are left to sort through personal belongings, funeral arrangements and asset distribution while they’re mourning. Solidifying an end of life plan can ease the minds of everyone involved. Your loved one’s final wishes can be known and recorded as an objective legal document. This gives you and your family a map to follow.
This process involves discussing all the conditions surrounding someone’s death before they die, as opposed to during or after. Having these discussions up front can make the process easier.
This article explains some of the benefits of end of life planning and explains the different parts of it: advance health care directives, memorialization and burial, financial affairs and preferred location of death.
Making health care decisions
An advance health care directive is a form that tells you how your loved ones want to be taken care of, in the case that they’re unable to do so themselves. Advance health care directives are sometimes known as living wills. An advance health care directive or living will is different from a power of attorney, which ensures that an agent of your loved one’s choosing can make medical decisions that are not covered by a living will.
If they’re incapacitated by a disease, an advance care directive will specify whether or not they wish to receive medical treatments such as:
- Artificial respiration
- Artificial hydration
- Feeding tubes
Advance care directives allow adults of any age to control how they spend their final days.
These forms, once signed by two witnesses, are legal documents with legal power in the United States. While they don’t force your loved one’s doctor to comply, a doctor can’t be legally prosecuted for doing so.
However, not all situations will be covered by the advance health care directive. In the cases that aren’t covered, doctors can consult the health care proxy.
Health care proxy
Named in the advance care directive, the proxy (sometimes known as an “agent”) is legally able to make health care decisions on behalf of the dying person in the event that they’re unable to do so for themselves. The proxy can be anyone: friend, family, it doesn’t matter. This applies only when the advance health care directive doesn’t cover the situation.
How to do it
Download and print the advance health care directive form for your state. After talking it over with your loved one, ask them to fill out the questions or help them fill it out. Have two witnesses over 18 years old present when your loved one signs it.
The document is legally recognized once your loved one and witnesses have signed it, so you’re not required to take it to a lawyer. However, it’s always recommended to get legal consultation on these issues, if you’re able.
Make several copies for yourself, your loved one, concerned family members, your loved one’s physician and faith leaders. Discuss the advance health care directive with your loved one’s physician, and make sure they understand what your loved one wants to avoid confusion.