One thing we all have in common is that we are going to die. Although death is not something we want to think about, dying is a reality that is best handled when we have planned for it.
The truth is, most people will become seriously ill or incapacitated leading up to death, and without end-of-life planning, many families are saddled with the burden of guessing how their dying loved one would like to be cared for. So, if you want to help protect your family from wondering, guessing and second-guessing, and maybe even disagreeing about what your wishes are, it’s important to make end-of-life planning a priority.
No matter how well your loved ones know you, your desires for how you’d prefer to die may not be as clear as you would think. By making choices ahead of time, putting them in writing, and discussing your plan with your family, you can help make a difficult situation at least somewhat easier to handle.
What is End-of-Life Planning?
End-of-Life planning is the process of making critical decisions about how you want your healthcare, medical treatment, and personal care to be handled should you become unable to speak for yourself.
Your end-of-life planning starts with thinking through the who, what, where, when, and how of the care you want to receive, as well as what resources will be available to carry out your wishes.
Next, you will also want to have conversations with your loved ones about what your wishes are. Then, you will need to get your legal and financial paperwork in order to ensure your wishes are in writing.
What are Advance Directives?
An advance directive is a written document, or set of documents, that indicates your choices about medical treatment if you are not able to make the choice on your own behalf when the time comes. Two common types of advance directives are a living will and a medical power of attorney.
A living will is a written statement regarding the handling of your medical care while you are presumably dying but still alive. The purpose of a living will is to communicate the types of procedures or life-prolonging treatments you want health care professionals to perform (or not perform) if you are in a vegetative state or have a terminal condition.
For example, life-supporting measures such as CPR, feeding tubes, and breathing machines, may help keep you alive long enough to improve, but these measures could also only slow your impending death, lower the quality of life you have left, and prolong your pain. Some people want to fight with every breath until the end while others would rather not suffer or extend the expense or emotional strain of ongoing efforts on loved ones. Keep in mind, your feelings may change, depending on your age, medical conditions, or other personal reasons.
A medical power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions for you if you should become unable to make decisions for yourself. This person should be someone you trust, they should be aware of your wishes and willing to take on the responsibility, and they should have a copy of your advance directive documents.
What Resources Can Help with End-of-Life Planning?
Although you can work with your attorney to create your living will and appoint a medical power of attorney, you may want additional support in thinking through the process and communicating this information with your family.
When you initiate the process of end-of-life planning, you can think of it as an invaluable gift to your loved ones. No matter how uncomfortable the topic may be, having a plan in place will provide peace of mind and ease at least some of the stress that occurs during the most difficult times.