The Most Important Awareness Day of the Year (and only 20- 30% realize it!)

Anne is 71 years old, and her health is rapidly declining. When her time comes, she is confident that she wants to donate her organs to help someone else live a longer and healthier life. She also wants to be buried next to her second husband, Joseph. Anne has three children — two from her first marriage and one from her second marriage. The child from her second marriage has passed on, leaving Anne a granddaughter, Emma.

Anne knows that her two surviving children, Sharon and David, are not comfortable with the concept of organ donation and that they want her buried next to their father. When Anne was admitted to the hospital, she was asked about her health-care power of attorney (or Advance Medical Directive), but she didn’t have one. She wrote down on paper that Emma is the only one who has the power to make anatomical gifts on her behalf, and the only one who can authorize the disposal of her remains. She signed the paper, and also felt confident because organ donation was checked off on her driver’s license. She discussed her wishes with Emma, who agreed to make sure that her organs will be donated, if possible, and that she will be buried next to her second husband.

Will Emma be able to carry out her grandmother’s wishes? Unfortunately, she may not. The reason is that Anne did not have a proper Advance Medical Directive in place. Advance Medical Directives are legal documents that enable you to plan for and communicate your end-of-life wishes. Should you become unconscious or too ill to write or speak, they give you a voice in your medical treatment. Without an Advance Medical Directive, these critical decisions could be made by people—including doctors, judges, and family members—with whom you’ve never shared your wishes.

Only About 20-30% Of Americans Have Completed an Advance Medical Directive

If you’re like Anne in our example and many others, you may not have taken the time yet to discuss healthcare decisions with your loved ones and plan for incapacity with a Certified Elder Law Attorney. Advance Medical Directives are extremely important in that they allow you to give instructions to your health-care providers and loved ones, relieving them of the burden of guessing what you want. They also enable you to convey your personal values, beliefs, preferences, and discussions with loved ones. If you can’t make your wishes known, how could you make sure they are respected?

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) Raises Awareness

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is an annual observance that was celebrated this past weekend to raise awareness about Advance Medical Directives.  It is an extremely important day because of the awareness it brings, especially for anyone who is:

  • reluctant to talk about death;
  • is experiencing declining health and doesn’t want to discuss loss of decision-making control;
  • has a hard time making decisions, so nothing gets done;
  • feels medical choices should be kept private;
  • never thinks much about end-of-life health-care issues;
  • thinks about getting professional help for legal affairs, but never gets around to it.

Why Plan Ahead?

Many families do not discuss incapacity planning until a crisis occurs. Then it may be too late. Once a person suffers mental incapacity, options are reduced and procedures become more complicated and costly. Others who may be unaware of a person’s wishes—such as social workers, physicians, lawyers, judges, court-appointed guardians, and conservators—may become involved in the decisions.
Planning ahead can:

  • protect your family from being forced to make decisions in crisis;
  • ease decision-making during inevitably difficult times;
  • decrease the likelihood of family dissention and possible court actions;
  • reduce disagreements between brothers and sisters about “what Mom or Dad wants”;
  • reduce stress—emotional and financial—later on;
  • assure that an individual’s life-style, personal philosophies, and choices are known and protected;
  • increase the options open to older people and their families.

Fostering Communication Among Loved Ones

Few of us find it easy to talk to family members about end-of-life issues. We may have ideas about what kinds of medical treatment we would or would not want and who we would trust to make the best possible decisions for us when we are no longer able to make them for ourselves. Sharing these thoughts with our families can seem awkward, and approaching other family members about what they would want seems even more difficult. However, there are many appropriate times to have discussions about these topics. One instance when many people consider doing so is when they are making arrangements for a long vacation. Other times are when a friend, neighbor, or other family member has recently died. Still other times can be when a news story sparks the conversation.

The best situation to foster communication among family members may be a formalized meeting to address concerns. Conducting end-of-life discussions during emotionally demanding events, such as holidays and family celebrations, may not be the best time for some families, however they may be the only occasion when you can gather together. For more details on starting the conversation, please see our posts, Joan Rivers Death Reminds us to Have End-of-Life Conversation, The End-Of-Life Conversation: What if it NEVER happens?, and Facing the Elephant in the Room.

Any Time After You’ve Turned 18 Is A Good Time to Start Planning

Preparing an advance care plan is about making decisions and having conversations with loved ones and other health, legal and financial professionals letting them know your personal preferences before you find yourself in a crisis situation. Any time after you’ve turned 18 is a good time to start planning!
Once the important conversation with your loved ones (and your physician, if you choose) occurs, and important decisions are discussed, it is important to work with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself, to make sure that you have proper incapacity planning documents in place. These include not only the Advance Medical Directive, but also a properly-drafted General Power of Attorney and an Advance Care Plan, also called a Lifestyle Care Plan. When you or your loved ones are ready, please call us to set up an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Incapacity Planning Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Incapacity Planning Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Incapacity Planning Attorney: 301- 519-8041
DC Incapacity Planning Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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