Friday, March 16, 2012

Series: The Law In Our Lives

Advanced Planning -- The Emotional Toll

In my last post, I discussed the importance of advanced healthcare planning. It can be as simple as preparing an advanced directive or health care power of attorney. In this document, you declare your intentions regarding various health care decisions, such as whether you would want artificial nutrition and hydration to prolong your life in the hospital. (Financial planning is important too! It can be as simple as adding a beneficiary's name to your house, bank accounts, and retirement plans to avoid probate, writing a living trust, and having a simple will.)

Meeting with a lawyer and getting a signature of an elderly parent in a hospital, nursing home, or even in their own home can be stressful; I advise that you be prepared. After all, we'll all be there some day and it gives peace of mind to know that you have taken the decision-making burden off your family. That sounds logical, right?

My parents did all those things. They made their own decisions. They took the burden off us kids. But I was still not prepared for the emotions attached to producing their documents for actual use by medical staff. Sure, I had prepared their health care directives myself and felt sure that the documents reflected my parents' wishes. But the act of handing that paper over to a health care provider made the situation real. At the time we wrote them, it was easy to say that my parents didn't want "heroic measures" taken to keep them alive, but it was another matter to realize that those same "heroic measures" they didn't want would be the same ones that would keep them here with us a little longer.

Now, as I watch my father being placed on hospice, I am struggling with these decisions. The hospice worker reviewed the documents I prepared and reminded us that if a time comes when my dad needs heroic measures (including something as simple as CPR), we cannot call 911. We must follow his wishes and allow him to die peacefully.

I know I am not as level-headed and detached now as I was when I assisted my parents with their estate planning; I am grateful that we took care of this ahead of time.

As you begin your estate planning, it is important that you be able to think clearly and rationally, which is much more difficult when surgery, hospitalization, nursing home care, or death is imminent. It is also less frightening.

Frequently our clients admit that they have put off their estate planning because it scared them to face the idea of their own deaths, but most express a feeling of relief when they sign their papers - wills, deeds, trusts, and powers of attorney. They know that their wishes will be honored and their loved ones won't have to worry. It's all about peace of mind.

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