No one wants to talk about the end of a loved one’s life, but almost everyone worries about it. Scientific surveys agree with this observation:
- 90% of people say talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 27% have done so.
- 82% of people say it’s important to put their last wishes in writing, but only 23% have done so.
- 60% of people say it’s “extremely important” not to burden their loved ones with decisions about end-of-life care, but only 56% have communicated end-of-life wishes.
- 60% of people believe adults should have estate planning documents, but only 44% have them.
Why Is Advance Care Planning Important for Healthcare Decisions?
Imagine your parent has a stroke and is unable to communicate with you. How do you know what treatment they want? How do you know if they need pain medication? How can you pay their bills?
If your parent doesn’t express his or her wishes in legal documents, those wishes may be ignored. More than a quarter of older Americans face medical treatment questions critical to their lives and quality of life but are incapable of dealing with them.
Advance care planning involves such decisions as:
- When should cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) be used?
- Should a ventilator be used?
- Should artificial nutrition or hydration be used?
- Should aid be limited to comfort, or palliative, care?
- Does your parent wish to donate organs and tissues upon the event of his/her death?
Advance Care Planning Includes Finances
When it comes to your loved one, health decisions may be the most important; however, many people are taken by surprise when someone they care for is incapacitated temporarily or permanently.
This prevents delays in paying your parent’s bills if they are temporarily incapacitated or in settling their debts if they die. These documents frequently prevent family squabbles and reduce the danger of fraudulent guardianship.
4 Must-Have Documents for Advance Care Planning
Lawyers and physicians advise that all adults have the following documents:
#1 Healthcare Power of Attorney (Healthcare Proxy) gives the designee the right to make medical decisions if a person is incapacitated. You can find forms here. Some organizations advocate using a Living Will, but it has drawbacks, such as placing decision-making power in the hands of healthcare providers, who may choose to ignore it.
Questions to ask yourself: Can I make a life-or-death decision regarding my parent? If not, who should? Do I know what my parent wants?
#2 HIPAA Authorization or Medical Release Form authorizes designated person(s) to receive healthcare information. This basic release form is acceptable to all healthcare providers, pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It does not have to be witnessed or notarized.
Questions to ask yourself: Who is the healthcare power of attorney? Who lives closest to my parent and can get there quickly in case of an emergency?
#3 Will or Living Trust determines who will inherit your parent’s assets. Your parent can write a will doing this, and it will usually be considered legal. If you prefer a more formal document, you can download a free will template here. If your parent has more assets than checking and savings accounts or more than one child, it’s best to have an attorney make out a will.
Questions to ask yourself: Who can handle the time, emotional, and financial costs of being the executor?
#4 Durable Power of Attorney permits an agent to act on your parent’s behalf in legal matters, even if your parent is incapacitated. For your parent’s financial wellbeing, ensure that the agent is someone you can trust. This document is key in preventing fraudulent guardianship if all family members agree. Download a template here.
Questions to ask yourself: Who should be the agent? Does everyone agree? Who will watch over your parent’s accounts to ensure the agent is not taking advantage?
What Do You Do After the Advance Care Documents Are Signed?
Make sure your parent’s physicians and local hospital receive copies of the healthcare power of attorney and the HIPAA authorization. If you are in charge of your parent’s healthcare, keep a copy in the kit that contains lists of your parent’s medication, medical history, etc., that you take with your parent to their doctor.
Your parent’s attorney will probably already have a copy of the will. Make sure they have a copy of the Durable Power of Attorney, too. Keep several copies to distribute when needed.
If there’s more than one member of the family involved in your parent’s care, work with your siblings and other involved parties to appoint one person to remind your parents to review these documents on an annual basis.