I remember a Christmas Eve 16 years ago when my cousin had lung cancer. She was 30; I was 21. Our family had celebrated together that evening, but she had not been feeling well. She got worse as the night wore on and ended up with a high fever. She and my aunt headed to the hospital about 45 minutes away in the city where my parents live. My cousin's husband had stayed back home with their two young children. After all, Santa would be coming in the morning.
We were headed back to my parents for the night, but detoured and made a stop at the hospital to be there with my cousin and my aunt late in the night on that Christmas Eve. As we stood awkwardly chatting while the nurses put in IVs and took notes and begin pumping drugs into my cousin's veins in an attempt to lower her fever, we talked about the sugar cookies my mom and I had made that morning.
I still vividly recall this conversation. Inside my head, I was hysterical over the absurdity of the conversation about sugar cookies. The mundane chatter about the ingredients and decorating and who we took the cookies to meant nothing at that moment. My cousin was dying, and we talked about sugar cookies.
Outwardly, I smiled and made small talk and nervously laughed and joked as if it was completely normal to be sitting in a hospital room on the oncology floor at midnight on Christmas morning. My cousin, always sweet and smiling, made us feel comfortable despite how miserable she was feeling.
My cousin survived that Christmas Eve infection, but it was her last Christmas here on earth. She died the following October at the age of 31; and it broke my heart.
Life does not always go as planned.
Talking about the What Ifs
It can be depressing and stressful to dwell on the negative, but if a serious health issue crops up or a terrible freak accident occurs, it will be less stressful and frustrating if all your ducks are in a row regarding treatment, last wishes and who is to make these decisions and who has legal authority to make these decisions, etc.
Please note that each state has its own requirements, just like wills and trusts, and may use varying terms for these documents. So, be sure to check your state's requirements and terms when preparing this information.
An advance directive can include several documents: living wills, powers of attorney (both medical and financial), do not resuscitate (DNR) order and the like. (See Monday's article for definitions of these terms)
In order to determine what you want your living will and any DNR to state, you must think about your own wishes and discuss them with your spouse and/or other close family and friends. Your family and friends certainly don't have to agree with your wishes about these matters, but it will help ease the tension in the moment when and if a quick decision must be made if those closest to you understand your position and know what to expect.
Getting Your Documents Straight
It's important to understand that a living will ensures that your wishes regarding giving and withholding medical care and end-of-life decisions, but it does not set out who will pay the bills or represent your interests while you are incapacitated or at your death. For these issues you will need a durable power of attorney for finances in addition to the living will.
Of course a durable power of attorney for finances in place will not give your agent the authority to receive your medical information and records. For that, you will need a durable power of attorney for healthcare. I will discuss more on powers of attorney later this week.
Again, it's best to talk with an attorney about these documents and the specific requirements of your state, but if you simply can't afford attorney fees, you can run an Internet search for your state's forms and instructions. If you fill it out yourself, be sure to follow the instructions for making the documents legally binding, i.e. witness signatures and/or notarized, etc.
So, start thinking about your wishes for medical care and end-of-life decisions and then talk to your family about your thoughts on these matters. Don't forget to think about who you would like to name as your agent(s) in the powers of attorneys, as well. That is the first step in making these estate considerations. Over and out...