If you’ve ever had to bring up a difficult topic with a loved one, you know how difficult it is. When that topic surrounds our mortality, it’s even more difficult. Even when we know they can’t be avoided, it can one of those topics we put off as long as we can. It’s necessary, but never easy. Planning ahead for our medical futures and ultimately, death, is as crucial as it is disconcerting.
Our realistic minds know that we don’t live forever, but how do you sit down with a parent or other family member to discuss their own reality? It adds an entirely new and frightening element. After all, most of us can admit it’d be difficult for someone to approach us with the goal of telling us it’s time to plan our deaths. Still, after the shock wears off, we know that it’s up to us to plan for that eventuality and ensure that we’ve provided for our loved ones in a way we want. When it’s all said and done, the most any of us can hope for is a life that was well-lived.
The case in the headlines this week have many people thinking about these topics. The young Texas mother was ordered off of life support by a judge. She was deemed brain dead, but the hospital was hesitant, actually refusing to remove her because she is pregnant. It’s been an excruciating few months for her family that’s culminated in a very intimate decision becoming global news. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder the importance of a living will and medical directives.
Often referred to as health care powers of attorney, these documents provide definitive directions on who you want to make decisions on your behalf relating to your medical care. These are important documents to include in your estate planning efforts. It questions concerning what you might want for yourself; you’ve already made your wishes clear. It can also prevent hurt feelings or other problems within your family.
These are used only when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Remember, though, that each state has its own laws, so if you move, you’ll want to consult an estate planning lawyer in your new state and set the dynamics up there.
The next question you’ll want to answer is who to trust to make the call. It’s a heavy burden, no doubt, but since this person, known as the agent, will have the authority to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated, it should be a close family member or a friend you trust. Be sure you speak with this person ahead of time to ensure he or she is able to carry out even the most difficult decisions.
An advance medical directive is important and the case in Texas is a reminder that we’re never too young to put those protections in place. This document provides your named agent with the type of care you want. It is often part of the health care proxy, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, with new healthcare laws and the uncertainties they bring, it’s never a bad idea to cover the bases in every way you can. Estate planning strongly encourage their clients to create an advance medical directive that specifically names those persons who are entitled to access to health care information about them.
Under the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), doctors, hospitals and other health care providers may no longer freely discuss a patient’s status or health with spouses or other family members — unless the providers have in hand signed consent forms from the patient. Remember: a general power of attorney for financial matters will not suffice. The instrument must refer specifically to HIPAA.
These are just a few of the important documents we should all be considering. It’s not easy, whether we’re bringing it up to an aging parent or making the decisions for ourselves. Once they’re in place, however, it sure provides a different perspective on life in general.