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Blog: Hospice Views

Giving Your Family the “Gift of Knowing” in 2017

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You know it's important. It's on the to-do list...right after "Get the Kids to Soccer" and just before "Clean Out the Garage."

But if you're like most people, it's one of those tasks that is easy to push off. “No one's sick right now,” you reason. We'll make sure this gets done next month, and then another year goes by and you're nowhere closer to completing an advance directive or medical power of attorney.

Life can change in an instant, forcing you and your family to make difficult decisions on behalf of loved ones. As hard as it is to make these decisions, it's even harder when you're not sure you're doing what the individual would have wanted.

Make a New Year's resolution to give your family the gift of knowing.

What healthcare paperwork do you need? 

There are two key pieces of paperwork you should complete: an advance directive and a medical power of attorney.

An advance directive or living will spells out your healthcare wishes in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself. It includes very specific treatment such as whether you want to be put on a ventilator. The paperwork can and should be updated as your wishes change. What you want at 35 may be dramatically different from what you want 50 years later. In addition, most advance directives give you the opportunity to spell out after-death wishes like cremation versus burial and the type of memorial service you would like.

A medical power of attorney names a person to ensure your healthcare wishes are followed. The appointed person becomes your spokesperson only when you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself. This is different from a standard durable power of attorney which covers financial matters. The medical power of attorney does not specifically spell out your wishes, so it is essential to have both this document and an advance directive in place.

The advance directive makes your wishes clear. A medical power of attorney appoints someone to be the advocate for those wishes.

Completing an advance directive.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides advance directive forms applicable to your state. Download them and start working through the questions.

When planning your advance directive, think about the various scenarios your loved ones might be confronted with: 

  • Do you want CPR, tube feedings and to be placed on a ventilator?
  • If so, how long do you want these treatments to be continued if your condition is not improving?
  • If you are declared "brain dead," do you want artificial life support to be removed?
  • What are your wishes in regards to organ donation?

If the form does not include everything that you want to say, you can add it.

Another option is to register your advance directive online using MyDirectives.com. You'll be asked to include contact information for the person who will make your healthcare decisions in the event you can’t, so be sure to have it handy and tell them to expect an email.

How to set up a medical power of attorney.

The medical power of attorney is a legal document that takes effect when your doctor declares that you no longer have the capability to make your own healthcare decisions. While you can download forms your own, creating a legal document on your own can be a daunting task. A trusted attorney can provide assistance.

It is important to select the right person to represent you in healthcare decisions. Choose a friend or family member who will stay calm in a difficult situation, is willing to fight for your wishes and is able to communicate and explain things to your family. Once you've selected them, go over your advance directive so they truly understand what you would want. You may also select a backup in case the person you selected is in an accident with you.

Making your healthcare wishes known. 

Starting the new year off with all your healthcare paperwork in order will bring peace of mind to you and your family. Although this conversation can be difficult to start, it's much easier to do before a crisis hits. When the time comes, your family will be comforted by the knowledge that the decisions they make are based on your preferences.

If you have questions about your healthcare paperwork or starting the conversation, please call Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care at 888-564-3405.

Additional Reading:

Power of Attorney: Essential Care Documents
Durable Power of Attorney: A Labor of Love
When to Designate a Power of Attorney


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