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What You Need to Know About End of Life Care and Advance Directives

No one likes to talk about death, but it’s an important conversation to have with your loved ones.

Do they know your wishes in the event of a medical crisis? If not, you should communicate what you want — and put it in writing — so your family members know what to do in this situation.

Unfortunately, the discomfort with talking about death puts many families in a difficult predicament. According to a 2013 study conducted by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, just 26 percent of people had a advanced healthcare directive, which outlines their wishes for end of life care. The study found that lack of awareness kept most people from having an advanced directive.

If you don’t yet have an advance health care directive or aren’t sure what it should include, here’s what you need to know.

What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

An advance health care directive typically consists of two legal documents that detail your end-of-life wishes: a living will and medical power of attorney. A living will outlines what you would want in the event of a health crisis. A medical power of attorney allows you to designate a relative, close friend or another person you trust as your health care proxy. In this role, the person will make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

An advance health care directive is important because it lets your loved ones and doctors know your health care preferences. In a serious medical crisis, you don’t want to put your family in the position of having to guess your wishes. An advance health care directive is necessary because it creates clarity during a very stressful and emotional time.

Decide What You Want

  • An advance health care directive can address several questions about end-of-life care:
  • What medical treatments do want? What medical treatment would you rather not have?
  • Who do you want to be your health care proxy?
  • Who do you want to handle your financial affairs in the event of a medical crisis?
  • If you are terminally ill, do you want doctors to perform every lifesaving measure possible if you stop breathing?
  • If you are terminally ill, would you prefer to receive hospice care in a facility, a hospital or at home?
  • How will you pay for your medical care? Will your insurance cover it or have you set aside savings to cover the costs of care?

All these questions deal with the quality of life you want to have when you are facing a serious illness. If you need help deciding what to include in your advance health care directive, talk to your doctor and family about your fears and concerns. They can help you identify what’s most important and ensure that these things are clearly outlined in your directive.

Put Your Wishes in Writing

After you’ve decided what you want, hire an attorney to put your wishes into an advance health care directive, a legally binding document. Once the document is prepared, store it in a safe place and let your family or the person you’ve designated as your health care proxy know where it is.

In Florida, state law recognizes advance health care directives that designate a health care proxy, that allow organ donation and that give your doctor permission to withhold or withdraw lifesaving measures. Before you finalize your document, make sure these details are included.

Be Financially Prepared

In addition to a legal document that outlines your health care wishes, you also need one that addresses your assets and finances. Create an estate or financial plan, such as a living trust or last will and testament, that details your income and assets and let your family members know about your wishes. If you have set aside funds for end- of-life care, include this information in the plan. Also learn what kind of financial assistance you may be eligible for through your health or disability insurance and state and federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid.

If you have insurance to cover funeral costs, include this information in your estate plan. Funerals can be thousands of dollars, so giving your family the peace of mind that this is taken care of will be invaluable to them.

Tell Your Loved Ones

Again, this can’t be stressed enough. Tell your family members what you want in the event of a medical crisis. Tell them that you’ve taken steps to formalize your wishes and put them into a legal document, so there is no confusion. Let those closest to you know where you’ve stored this information and give them contact information for your attorney. Provide copies of your advance health care directive not only to family members, but also your doctor, health care providers and the person you’ve designated as your health care proxy.

Death is an uncomfortable subject, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid preparing for it. Give your family members — and yourself — peace of mind by creating an advance health care directive so that there is no confusion about your wishes for end-of-life care.

My passion for organ donation advocacy led me to start my organization, Gr8 to Don8. We partner with high schools and colleges to educate, and hold an annual 8K charity run in the Longwood area. This year, our race will be on April 9. To sign up or to learn more, please visit our Kintera site.