Most of us would rather not think about it, but the day may come when a physical or mental impairment makes it impossible for our loved ones to express their wishes in a medical emergency.
Medical emergencies are frightening for families, and are particularly upsetting when senior loved ones are unable to make their own decisions due to physical or mental impairment.
When the unthinkable happens and Mom or Dad is unable to make critical decisions about care, an advance directive can ensure your senior loved one’s wishes are respected.
Creating an advance directive is not a fun task for anyone; however, during extremely trying times, they can give some semblance of peace for families when deciding upon critical care.
The most important advance directive documents
While particularly important for seniors, advance directives are important for every adult. To help begin the conversation with your loved one, consider creating your own documents and reviewing them with your loved one to open up the conversation.
There are two (2) primary documents involved in advance directives:
1. Living wills.
The term “living will” is often used interchangeably with “advanced directive” by physicians. It is the document that provides literal instructions for the kind of medical care seniors wish (or don’t wish) to receive if they are incapacitated, and either terminally ill or unlikely to survive without treatment.
You may have heard of a “DNR” — this is a frequent instruction included in advance directives, and dictates the patient does not want to receive CPR in the case of heart stoppage. Living wills may also indicate whether your loved ones wish to donate their organs after they pass away.
2. Health care proxies.
The term “durable power of attorney” may be used interchangeably with “health care proxies” and is a document that designates an individual who can make medical decisions if your loved one is incapacitated as indicated above. A secondary individual can also be indicated in case the first choice is unavailable during medical emergencies.
In addition to health care decisions, medical emergencies can also be stressful and confusing due to finances. Creating a durable power of attorney can designate a loved one to step in when seniors are unable to make financial decisions and/or pay their bills. In many cases, this is the same person designated in the health care proxy, although it can be anyone.
A traditional will is also an important document for seniors to create in order to decide how their assets are distributed upon their passing.
An eldercare or estate planning attorney can assist you with the preparation of these documents, as laws governing advance directives vary from state to state.
Easy access to advance directives is important
When thrust into a family medical emergency, easy access to advance directives documents is critical. Original documents should be kept at home with easy access, and copies should be given to any individuals designated in them, doctors or anyone who will be involved in making medical decisions.
For extra peace of mind, you may also want to follow these steps:
- Speak to your loved one’s doctors about signing off on the documents to be sure they’ll agree to follow the person’s wishes.
- Create and store an envelope with copies of these documents on the refrigerator door, along with a list of emergency contacts. You may also want to make another copy to store in your or your loved one’s car (if that person is still driving).
- Take digital copies and store them on your (and your loved one’s) smartphone. There are special apps for this purpose, or you can simply take pictures of the documents and mark them as “favorites” for easy access on iPhones or Android devices. Encourage your loved one to keep a note in his or her wallet indicating where the documents can be found.
- Review advance directives twice a year to ensure individuals who are designated to make decisions are still preferred and available.
Advance directives can give both you and your loved one peace of mind.
Many seniors avoid creating these critical documents, resulting in additional stress during already-difficult times. If your senior loved ones do not have advance directives, it’s up to you to engage in a somewhat difficult conversation. Taking the time to craft an advance directive now and prevent you from having to make extremely difficult decisions down the line.