Planning for end-of-life care is just as important as planning for your family’s future with retirement and savings plans. Yet it’s something most of us wait to do until we get the news from the doctor or it’s too late and you’re unable to speak for yourself regarding your health care choices.
A part of everyone’s future is healthcare. Being proactive and investing in the future of your healthcare now is one of the best things you could do before anything actually happens. Advance-care planning doesn’t mean that your planning to die right now and need to make immediate arrangements.
It’s a smart move to make when considering your health should something happen that would prevent you from being able to speak for yourself. There could be an accident or a long-term illness, which could take a turn for the worse and leave you unable to communicate with your healthcare providers about your wishes for treatment.
Advanced care planning helps to ensure that someone could still speak for you on your behalf and let your wishes be known about medical treatments you wish (and don’t wish) to receive.
The two most important documents to have is an advanced directive, where you name your healthcare proxy (also known as the healthcare power of attorney) and a living will. A living will is almost like an advanced directive but it’s limited to outlining only the type of life-sustaining procedures you wish to receive in the event you are in a vegetative state or terminal, and death is imminent despite any life-sustaining procedures that were performed.
Meanwhile the advanced directive, in addition to naming your healthcare proxy, allows you to make life-sustaining decisions for the same scenarios as the living will, but it factors in end-stage conditions, which the living will do not.
Deciding on a healthcare proxy is a conversation that should happen with your loved ones before any crisis could happen. You can choose a spouse, parent, friend, or some other family member. This person will then be a part of your advanced directive and will act on your behalf should you be unable to do so yourself due to a medical situation. The important thing is that this person is someone whom you trust and feel comfortable with.
Having a healthcare proxy in place relieves the burden from family members of not knowing what to do during a medical situation. It can also provide a sense of relief for yourself in knowing that your wishes have been shared about end of life treatments.
Here are some key questions and talking points to help you get started:
- How would you like your choices honored at the end of life? For example, where would you like to get care? Home? Nursing facility? Hospital?
- What kinds of aggressive treatments would you want or not want? Resuscitation if your heart stops? A breathing machine? Feeding tube?
Most of these documents are fairly simple outlines of your wishes and helps to reduce agonizing choices your loved ones may need to make about your health. Advanced directives vary by state, so it’s important that you find out what’s required by whatever state you reside in.
In addition to the advanced directive and living will, there is one more form that you may be asked for called the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form (POLST). POLST is different from an advanced directive in that POLST summarizes the patients’ wishes in the form of medical orders and is signed by the patients’ physician, while the advanced directive is a legal document that allows your healthcare power of attorney to speak on your behalf if you can’t speak for yourself. POLSTs also vary by state and can easily be found and downloaded from the Internet.
A simple outline of your wishes will be enough of a guide to help aid your loved ones in making the decisions about getting the healthcare that you want. The paperwork that outlines your wishes can guide and simplify agonizing choices for the people you love. These decisions are very personal and should be based on your particular values and not what others want for you. The conversations may be difficult at first but are one of the best ways to prepare for the future so you can enjoy your living now.