Planning Ahead For When Life Changes
Creating The Legal Advance Directives You need
Peace of mind comes with making a plan, especially when it comes to expressing your wishes for your medical care, your finances and your desires about the end of your life and after you die.
comes to expressing your wishes for your medical care, your finances and your desires about the end of your life and after you die. Legal advance directives are documents that give others the authority and directions to carry out your wishes when you are unable to or when it’s more convenient for someone you trust to do so for you. Fortunately, advance directives are easy to create and legally file.
Four Essential Documents
Advance directives are legal tools that ensure a person’s wishes concerning their healthcare and finances are carried out should they become unable to express them. Everyone should have these documents on file no matter what their age. If you are helping your loved one create their advance directives, consider using this as an opportunity to write down your own desires and file your own advance directives. Documents you and your loved one should have include:
• A Living Will, also known as a Declaration for a Desire for a Natural Death
• A Healthcare Power of Attorney
• A Will
• A Durable Power of Attorney.
Living Wills address end-of-life issues, such as requesting or withholding medical treatments.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney is broader and allows the person you appoint, who is also known as a proxy, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. For instance, if you are in a stable coma, your healthcare proxy could make decisions about your everyday care. Both the Living Will and the Healthcare Power of attorney are activated only when a physician declares the patient unable to give consent.
A Will deals with the division of property and assets after death.
The Durable Power of Attorney allows for the appointment of someone you choose to manage financial affairs should you become incapacitated. You decide on the scope of the Durable Power of Attorney and under what conditions it is activated. Durable Power of Attorney ends at death. The executor of a Will, who can be the same person who has Durable Power of Attorney, then takes charge of the estate and financial affairs.
Consider Professional Help
You don’t have to use an attorney to create advance directives but you may feel more secure doing so.
North Carolina Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney instructions and forms are available at www.sosnc.gov/ahcdr/. This site also has a registry where you can file up to four advance directive documents for easy access. In addition, most area hospitals and hospice organizations have forms and are glad to assist you with completing them. Be aware that these directives must be properly executed and witnessed to be valid.
Will and Durable Power of Attorney forms can be downloaded online as well. However, unless your life is very simple, think twice about executing these documents without the assistance of a lawyer. An attorney can be especially helpful if you have had multiple marriages or have stepchildren, grandchildren, a large estate, a business or other more complex life situations. With all advance directives, there is a lot to consider that is unique to you or your loved one. A lot is riding on the paperwork being properly done. While you can “do it yourself,” talking with a professional is prudent.
What Your Directives Should Say
The wishes expressed in advance directives are up to the person drafting the document. The downloadable forms contain good prompts to ensure you ask and answer important questions and cover many bases.
However, these documents cannot address every eventuality so just as important as getting your wishes down on paper is making sure that all involved understand the underlying spirit of those wishes.
A family meeting is a great way to accomplish this. Frank discussions face to face with all concerned parties allow people to ask questions, sort out possible misunderstandings and come to terms with what their loved one wants. Such a meeting—strengthened by legal documents that reflect the content of the meeting—provides the proxy and other family members with direction and peace of mind when tough decisions may need to be made.
Who Should Have the Power?
The toughest decision for many when putting these documents together is deciding who should receive their Healthcare and Durable Powers of Attorney. Obviously, the proxy needs to be someone who knows the person and sees his or her life in context. The proxy should understand the responsibilities and agree to the job.
Although a spouse or partner may seem like a natural choice, he or she might not be the best proxy. Typically, spouses and partners are about the same age so issues of aging can present problems.
Appointing all children equally is another popular option. However, before making such a decree, consider, based on past experience, if this sibling group can reach consensus on sometimes complicated and tension-filled decisions. On the other hand, realize that appointing one child as the sole proxy can lead to its own set of problems.
If the family dynamic won’t fare well with a group or individual being appointed, consider asking a close family friend or choosing a professional to do the job.
Whomever you select, think about that person’s natural strengths and weaknesses. One child or close friend might be great for financial matters while another might be better with healthcare issues.
Situations change over time so you should update all of your directives every five years or sooner as needed to be sure they still reflect the your circumstances and desires.
Once completed, keep an easy to access file at home with several copies of all advance directives and provide copies to your doctor. Scan these documents into your computer for quick reference so you can send them electronically to any appropriate entity that needs them. Keep an electronic set on your phone, too, and register your advance directives with North Carolina at www.sosnc.gov/ahcdr/.