It has been about a month since rock and roll legend Tom Petty died suddenly of apparent cardiac arrest. To us here at AgingOptions, it seems like any time a celebrity passes away, the topic of end of life planning comes up once again. While there’s much we don’t know about the handling of Petty’s estate – his net worth was recently estimated at $95 million – it shouldn’t take a well-publicized death to remind us that we owe it to our families, and to ourselves, to make careful and complete plans for the later stages of our lives, long before it’s too late.
This important article on end of life planning appeared this week on the aging-related website NextAvenue. “The loss of the 66-year-old musician (Petty) serves as a reminder that tragic events can happen no matter one’s age or seeming good health,” the article states. “It’s another opportunity to bring up an unusual, but critical, conversation topic with loved ones — advance care planning and advance directives.” These are legal documents that specify your end of life care preferences, and also name someone to be your health care proxy in case you are seriously ill and unable to make your wishes known. This person can also be known as a health care agent.
Just about everyone agrees that it’s important to have end of life discussions with family members. “According to a survey by The Conversation Project, a campaign to promote communication about death and dying, 90 percent of people say talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important,” says the NextAvenue article. But how many have actually done so? Only about 27 percent. The reason there is such a huge disconnect between good intentions and actual practice is our comfort level with discussing end of life issues. “It may seem uncomfortable to bring up the serious subject of end-of-life care choices with family members,” says the article. “The topic can be intimidating and scary for many. However, when a conversation is approached with thoughtfulness, preparation and love, participants likely will be grateful for the resulting clarity and reassurance that they understand a loved one’s wishes for care at end of life.”
University of Southern California gerontologist Professor Susan Enguídanos says, “This is one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have with your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be scary; it can be a thoughtful exchange and an ongoing conversation as health conditions change.” There’s also an important elements of self-interest in making your wishes known well in advance: USC’s Professor Enguídanos, an expert on palliative, hospice and end-of-life care, says that patients are much more likely to get the kind of care they want in the later stages of their lives if they complete an advance directive and communicate their choices clearly and unambiguously with family members well ahead of time. The disconnect between good intentions and actual practice is dramatically illustrated by the fact that, according to Enguídanos, more than 70 percent of adults say they want to die at home, in comfortable surroundings – but barely 25 percent actually do so.
Talking over your end of life wishes is essential, but talk alone is inadequate to protect your wishes and provide clear instructions for your family. “It’s not enough just to talk,” warns NextAvenue. “Advance directives are legal documents. You are not required to hire an attorney to draw one up, but you do need to put your wishes in writing.” Of course, based on our experience at AgingOptions, we strongly feel that an attorney’s input is essential to make certain your directives are honored and not ignored.
The NextAvenue article lists a few other important points that are helpful to know concerning advance directives (these are according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization). You should know that:
- Your advance directive goes into effect as soon as you sign it in front of the required witnesses.
- Advance directives may be known by other names, such as a health care directive, health care (or “durable”) power of attorney with living will, or an advanced statement of will regarding treatment.
- Once your legal directives are completed, you’ll want to make several copies of the completed documents and keep the originals in an accessible place (not a safe deposit box). Give copies to your health care agent and to your doctor.
- Remember, if a loved one call 9-1-1 for you, those emergency responders must perform their lifesaving duties and are not allowed to honor your advance directive.
- If you spend considerable time in more than one state, it’s a good idea to also fill out the advance directive specific to that state. State laws do vary.
- An advance directive remains in effect until you change it.
One final tip: don’t simply prepare an advance directive and forget about it. You need to review your advance directive occasionally to make sure it still represents your wishes, because family dynamics can change dramatically. You probably don’t want an estranged ex-spouse acting as your health care proxy! In our work here at AgingOptions we’ve encountered a great number of instances in which people neglected end of life planning entirely, and you can believe us when we say this is one more case in which failing to plan can have disastrous consequences. Why not put your mind at rest by seeking out professional advice in this vital area?
Remember, too, that discussing your end of life wishes is only one aspect of proper planning for your later years. Your loved ones also need to be informed about the type of housing you desire as you age, the level of transparency you expect among your family members in dealing with your care, and the amount of resources you expect to have available to meet your needs. That is why a properly devised LifePlan is so important: to identify health, housing, financial and legal issues that go into proper retirement planning. Do you really have an adequate plan in place – one that will help you preserve your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and help you escape the trap of being forced into institutional care against your will? It’s time for you to learn about a breakthrough in retirement planning, called an AgingOptions LifePlan – the only approach to retirement that blends all the facets of retirement into one seamless plan, giving you a blueprint to help you enjoy a vibrant and secure future. You can find out more, at no cost, simply by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich, at a location that’s convenient for you.
Click here for dates, times and online registration – or call us for assistance. Then join us at a LifePlanning Seminar soon. Whether you need planning for the end of life, or for enjoying the rest of your life, AgingOptions is on your side!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)