Only about 25% of older adults have taken the time to think about what would happen if they became incapacitated, and have filled out a healthcare directive. This seems pretty unfair to their adult children. Why put the burden on the kids? Each person has the right to decide what kind of care he or she should get near the end of life. Why do so many of us resist this subject?
No one likes to think about being incapacitated. Becoming incapacitated can happen to anyone. That’s when you need this document, and your family will wish you had one. A healthcare directive is not complicated, but it can save family fights, give you the security of knowing that your wishes are clear, and help everyone know what to do in the event that you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
What can cause you to be unable to speak for yourself? Lots of things: head injury, stroke, emergency surgery, being put on a respirator because of trouble breathing, and many more.
How do you get a healthcare directive? It’s not difficult to get the document, as it is available from your doctor, the hospital in your area, and on the internet, for free. It’s available on our website, AgingParents.com in the Toolkit, which you can download.
Filling it out takes some thought. What do I want to have done for me if I am near the end of life? What treatment do I want to have? Are there circumstances under which I would want treatment to be stopped? Who will have the power to decide for me if the time comes that I can’t speak for myself?
The person who makes decisions for you is called your “agent” or proxy. It’s very important to pick the right person for the job. The most emotional person in your family is probably not the one. An adult son, daughter, or other relative, or a trusted younger friend are persons to consider. Above all the person who is going to be your agent should be someone who will honor your words and your wishes, and be able to put his or her own feelings a
side if the agent does not agree personally with what you want.
It might make a good New Year’s resolution to take care of this basic responsibility right away. It’s an essential part of being a mature and considerate person. Although most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of being incapacitated, it is something we all must consider as possible for ourselves in the future. In considering the possibility, we can make things clear to those we care about so that no one is forced to speculate about it when it’s too late for us to say what we think.
You don’t need a lawyer to fill out a healthcare directive. It’s a good idea to speak to an attorney if you are not sure about what the document means, or you need help filling it out correctly. Otherwise, just get it done, give a copy to the person whom you appoint to be your agent, and keep the original in a safe place with your other important papers, such as your trust, will, and property records. Your family will be glad you took this step if the time ever comes when they must act on your behalf.
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