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End-of-Life Planning

 Posted by Mary Beth Radeck on November 21, 2016 at 11:38 AM

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, “Advance care planning allows a person to make his or her wishes and care preferences known before being faced with a medical crisis. Advance care planning is simply smart life-planning.”

Recent government policy debates aside, there is no question end-of-life planning offers substantial peace of mind for families in the midst of crisis. Patients who have the opportunity to review options and make personal choices before they lose the ability to do so also feel empowered and more prepared for the inevitable.

According to a Harris Poll, more than half of Americans maintain a will to help with the dispersal of their estates, however the Department of Health and Human Services indicates less than 20 percent of Americans established Advance Directives for Health Care. “Sometimes it is just easier to begin with the financial or tangible aspects of planning,” said Mary Beth Radeck, Ownerof Caring Transitions of Chicago Northwest Suburbs. “Many people find it less daunting to update a will or select a trustee. Decisions involving advance directives tend to be more emotional, because they force us to directly confront our mortality.”

Planning Ahead

When you begin estate planning or health care planning, you should begin with personal assessment. Consider what you want to happen. Which choices are in line with your values, your religion or alleviate your concerns? The next step is to hold a series of conversations. Find opportunities to broach difficult topics and express your wishes to loved ones, physicians or legal and financial advisors. The final step is to legally document your wishes, so they may be executed accordingly when the time comes.

Estate Planning

The goals of estate planning vary based on assets and personal circumstances. Below are some of the broader estate planning objectives. Virtually any senior service organization, attorney or financial advisor can provide you with a more detailed estate planning checklist.

  • Review or establish a will.
  • Review your list of trustees and executors.
  • Review and update your insurances, including items like survivor income, loan repayment, capital needs and estate settlement expenses.
  • Evaluate tax implications of your decisions.
  • Appoint guardian(s) for children in the instance both parents are deceased.
  • If you own a business, protect it with a succession plan.

Advance Directives

In the event you are not able to communicate your own wishes, all states have laws that make it possible for you to make your own care decisions in advance. This process is called "advance directives." Again, senior services, physicians and legal advisors can provide you with the appropriate forms.

Three significant areas of advance directives include:

  • Health Care Power of Attorney: A legally appointed agent or surrogate who will make decisions on your behalf and who will use your advance directives as a guide to make those decisions.
  • Living Will: A written directive describing preferences or goals for health care or treatment.
  • Do Not Resuscitate (DNR): A physician’s order written in a patient’s medical record indicating that health care providers should not attempt CPR in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Without estate planning or directives in the person's medical files and without the appointment of  power of attorney, loved ones struggle to do the best they can based on advice from legal advisors or hospital or medical staff. Yet, as Radeck reminds us, “Documenting your wishes and placing confidence in a surrogate allows others to make difficult decisions once you are no longer able. Your loved ones are better able to live with the decisions that are made, knowing they were made in accordance with your wishes.”

Regardless of the situation, losing a loved one is devastating. The grieving process can be overwhelming enough, without the added stress of settling an estate or moving yourself or a loved one into a new home. The professionals at Caring Transitions can help. We offer a streamlined support system to help facilitate a less-stressful transition. We can manage the details, giving you and your family time to remember your loved one.

For more information on dealing with the loss of a loved one, consider reading the book Saying Goodbye: How Families Find Renewal Through Loss.

Sources: Department of Health and Human Resources, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Harris Interactive