Recently, my grandmother’s health declined. She had a stroke and is showing some signs of dementia. I often wonder to myself how we could have prepared better for this. I wish someone had given us a checklist that said, “Before your grandparent’s health declines, do the following.” Knowing what I know now, I think the place to start would have been with an advanced directive. An advanced directive would have allowed my grandmother to make her healthcare and financial wishes known while she was still able.
An advanced directive is a legal document that provides written instructions for the care of your health and finances in the event that you become permanently or temporarily incapable of making or communicating these decisions. Three types of advanced directives include: a living will, power of attorney for health care and power of attorney for property.
A living will is used when you are unable to make decisions for yourself and are facing terminal illness. This document provides instructions for the healthcare provider regarding the extent to which you wish to receive medical treatment. This document will let the healthcare provider know if you wish to receive treatment such as dialysis, tube feeding or life support.
Power of attorney for healthcare
A power of attorney for healthcare allows you to name someone as your proxy or agent, and it gives this person the power to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. In this document, you can state at what point in time you wish for the power of attorney to take affect.
Power of attorney for property
A power of attorney for property allows you to designate a person to make financial and business decisions on your behalf. Your power of attorney for property can access your bank accounts, pay your bills and sell your property.
Your power of attorney for healthcare and property can be the same person. It is vital that you trust this person or these people to invest themselves in understanding your wishes. Make sure that you and your powers of attorney are comfortable with how your wishes are recorded in legal documentation.
There are additional documents that can be included with your advance directive, such as a “do not resuscitate” order, organ donation and primary physician selection. The more information you include in your advance directive, the easier it will be for your family to honor your wishes. This will also help lessen the stress on your family in time of crisis.
Every state has unique laws regarding advanced directives, so it’s wise to consult a lawyer who is familiar with these unique laws. There are Web sites that can assist you in creating an advanced directive such as agingwithdignity.org. Once an advanced directive is drafted, a copy should be added to your medical record and given to your agent or proxy, lawyer, and healthcare provider(s). Store the original in a safe place, and let your proxy or agent know where it is located.
Having an advance directive can give you peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be followed and that you have helped make decisions easier for your family. Don’t wait to create this important documentation.
By Gabrielle Hoing