I was talking with a friend recently, and the topic of advance directives and long term care insurance came up. These are difficult subjects, no matter how you slice it. When all is well, the last thing we want to do is plan for the day when we, or our loved ones, will no longer be able to handle personal affairs. While it isn’t a pleasant thought, taking care to get everything in order is truly one of the most loving and valuable gifts family members can be given. Having just lost my mother following a heartbreaking, almost decade long journey through Alzheimer’s, I speak from experience.
Understanding and Respecting Their Wishes
Advance directives such as a durable power of attorney for health care, durable power of attorney for finances, and living will are the documents that most commonly come to mind when we think along these lines. I can’t stress how thankful I am that my mother was prepared, and I’m particularly grateful that she took care to clearly spelled out her wishes in a living will, leaving no room for interpretation.
Although I knew very well what Mom wanted – and didn’t want, without that piece of paper bearing her signature, it would have been agonizing to make those final decisions. I doubt I could have done it. As it was, the experience was more painful than words can express. But I knew without question that her wishes were being followed and with that came some level of peace.
It is important to be aware that an advance directive by itself does not ensure a patient will be treated under a “do not resuscitate” protocol. For that, a DNR form is required. A Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) is a legal order written by a physician based upon desires expressed in an advance directive. The DNR allows the medical team to proceed according to the patient’s wishes. You may also hear the term Allow Natural Death (AND), which is gaining favor in the medical community, as it focuses on what is being done rather than what is being avoided.
Depending upon the state in which you reside, you may want to look into Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST ) or Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST). These programs also provide guidance for medical care in the event that an individual can no longer speak for himself.
A Few Additional Tips:
- Be sure to review your beneficiaries periodically and make updates as needed.
- Think about adding a close family member as joint owner on accounts where you are the sole account holder.
- Consider a transfer on death deed for any property you own.
Priority 1: Minimize Assets In Probate
Anything that can be done to minimize what is required to go through probate is well worth the advance thought and effort. Your survivors will thank you. Losing a loved one is extremely difficult and wreaks havoc not only on our emotions, but also on our ability to think clearly. By carefully organizing your affairs ahead of time, you are able to at least lessen the strain of dealing with these details during a very painful time.
Unfortunately, many of us learn as we go, stumbling along the way. What lessons have you learned the hard way? We would love for you to share your experiences and advice in the Comments section.