Image by M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013.
April showers bring May flowers -- Happy thoughts for a hard dicussion
Next Tuesday is not just the day after your 2012 income tax return was due. It is a day when doctors, lawyers, and others who work with the public on matters of health pause and observe the important of making advanced health care decisions.
Planning for illness, death and taxes does not likely rank in the Top 50 List of what you want to do this weekend. While not fun, it is important. And it is a gift to your loved ones. Need motivation to face these hard questions? It can be found in one word, "control". By sitting down and creating your own documents you are taking control over 1) who acts for you if you cannot, and 2) what you want to happen if you are in an end of life state.
In terms of the "who", do not go with your knee-jerk reaction. Your oldest child should not be named just because he was born first. Your sister should not be listed because if you don't, she'll nag you until the day you die. Nominate someone who is right for the job. This includes: ability to follow your wishes, comfortable speaking with medical staff, emotional ability to stay together when you are gravely ill, and has the time to be at your bedside. Remember, you do not have to name a blood relative. It is about taking control and putting down what you think is best.
Not everyone can afford to work with an attorney, and not everyone wants to work with an attorney. Free copies of medical powers of attorney (in Wisconsin it is a Power of Attorney for Health and a Living Will) are usually available from your doctor's office. But do not overlook financial matters. If you are too sick to make medical decisions, you are also too sick to file your taxes, pay your mortgage, etc. You can use a power of attorney for finance to nominate who controls your checkbook if you cannot act. All of these forms are available for free, for Wisconsin residents, on the Department of Health Services website. I do not use these in my practice; there are key elements I find troubling. Read, ask questions, and determine if they fit your needs.
With 50 different states in our nation, we have 50 different sets of laws related to advance directives. We even have a variety of names to call these important papers. To learn more about the specifics of your state and its requirements, please consult an attorney in your area.