One of the most difficult things to do when a loved one is getting older is to think of the all the things that come with the end of life. By having certain documents ready and in place before this happens will let your family feel secure in the fact that they are following your wishes and they don't need to wonder if you would approve. This planning should take place regardless of age, but if you have a loved one who does not have these plans in place, it is very important to sit down and discuss them while they are still able to. Don't wait until a person is sick or dying to put these in place.
Some of the most important documents to have include:
A living will
Medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy
A durable power of attorney
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Allow Natural Death (AND) directive
Each of these documents serves a different purpose and we will discuss them each a little further, but remember it is always advisable to consult with a professional on long term care and aging matters. One good resource is National Institute on Aging www.nia.gov/healthplanning .
A will is a document that describe your wishes for your physical and tangible property. It can be a simple or complex document that outlines what properties go to which parties. Although this can be done online, you are still probably best to consult with a lawyer when drafting your will. The more detailed your wishes, the less chance that there will be family disputes after your death. You will need to appoint an executor of your estate that will see the will through probate and make sure the will is executed as written. State laws vary widely about who can be the executor, so make sure to check state laws before choosing your executor.
A Living will is where you will share your wishes as to what will happen to you whether in a hospital setting or at home, concerning medical treatments and end of life decisions if you are unable to make medical decisions. This will describe what treatments you do or do not want performed.
In order for your living will to be carried out you should appoint a medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy. This person will be responsible for making health care decisions if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. You are able to choose a selected appointee, but make sure that it is someone you know will follow your wishes as outlined in your living will. You can usually write your own healthcare power of attorney by checking you state's website for rules, regulations, and forms. State laws vary, so if you regularly spend time in two different states, it may be advisable to have a separate document for each state. This form does not expire until the time of your death, so you should periodically review both this and your Living Will to make sure they still express your wishes. Remember that emergency medical technicians cannot honor a living will or medical power of attorney. This usually requires two doctors to agree that you are in a condition that supports this decision (terminally ill or in a permanent state of unconsciousness.
The medical power of attorney is different from a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney is in place until you rescind it or until your death. This gives the appointee the power to make other decisions, such as living arrangements, sale of property and access to bank accounts. You will need to make sure you have both documents available.
A living will is different than a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Do Not Attempt to Resuscitate (DNAR). These documents only cover treatments that require intubation ,CPR or Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). A DNR is recognized by all medical personnel but only covers the treatments listed above. In a case where there are other injuries, medical personnel will treat all conditions not having to do with breathing or heartbeat (such as bleeding or choking).
All of these documents are something everyone should have since life is never certain and these relatively simple precautions will give you and your family comfort at a stressful time in life. Think carefully about who you appointment to each position, since they will basically acting out your decisions. Again it is always best to speak with an attorney in regards to any legal documents you may want to attain.