Now that you’ve warmed up to the subject of advance health care directives, it’s time to start writing up the actual living will. Throughout this process you’ll have to discuss delicate issues and your parents may just want to do it all on their own. Be supportive but present and feel free to enlist the help of your parent’s clergy or doctor. Remind yourself that if your parents fall ill without a living will, everyone will be left guessing and may have to make decisions clouded by emotion. Consider, too, that the decision-making may fall to a person your parents may not want involved in their care.
Finding the proper forms.
The first step is to find the living will form sanctioned by your state – this should be posted on your state’s public health website or available through your medical facility. This is a bit of a “fill-in-the-blank” form covering all the important issues related to end-of-life medical treatment. Be sure to use only your state’s form because others may not be considered legally-binding.
Most states do offer reciprocity so living wills are portable when traveling. If your parents split residences between two states, it may be a good idea to fill out a living will form for each state and file it with each medical facility.
In most cases you do not need a lawyer to fill out an Advance Health Care Directive. Because it is a legal document, however, it typically needs to be signed with a witness and notarized. Again, refer to your state’s specific requirements.
Once properly filed, the living will directive goes into effect whenever the patient can no longer make decisions (such as in the case of advanced dementia). The wishes spelled out must be honored by law! There are various laws in place through federal and state agencies that ensure patient protection – even if the family or doctor disagrees with the stated wishes in the living will.
Medical issues to include
The basic purpose of the living will is to guide the health care team and family during life-threatening medical situations in which the patient cannot speak or declare their wishes. These situations can range from catastrophic injuries caused by a car accident to loss of consciousness due to long-term illness. There is no way to know which situation you will be faced with but living wills usually cover the types of extreme treatment used for extending life such as: resuscitation, ventilation, artificial nutrition, or hydration. You may also include desires for organ donation or whole body donation for medical research.
Every person is different!
Choosing the type of end-of-life care wanted is really based on your parent’s personal value system and religious beliefs. This is an individual decision and your Mom may think differently than your Dad! The discussion here will center around what kind of measures they’re comfortable with even if they are irreversibly comatose. I think for our parent’s generation the most recognizable term is “being put on life support” which they view as being hooked up to machines. But in reality it’s not just one specific treatment and you will have to go through the list item-by-item. This is a great time for your parents to speak with their doctor about what to expect so they can make a well-informed decision.
Who’s in charge?
After you’ve covered all the medical issues, the next important element of a living will is to choose the “power of attorney for health care” and file the paperwork with the medical facilities where your parents doctor. I’ll write more on that in my next blog . . .
Editor’s note: Quicken Willmaker has a built-in feature to create living wills and advance health care directives. It’s what I’ve used for my own planning.
Photo credit puresolitude