Many people think that advance directives apply only to someone who has lived a long life and is now close to death. But, just like the question, “When does caregiving begin?,” the answer could easily be, “suddenly — in the blink of an eye — because of a car accident, a stroke, a heart attack or another medical emergency.”
My wife and I created our advance directives in 2006, just before my spinal surgery. Had something gone wrong, my wife had full legal authority to make any necessary medical decisions for me during the 4-hour surgery and 1-hour recovery period. My advance directives came into play once again during a seizure in 2010 when I wasn’t capable of making any medical decisions for more than 4 days.
My advance directives allowed ME to specify in advance exactly what kind of medical care I wanted if I were too ill or injured to express my wishes. [If the worst case scenario happened, did I want to be connected up to a breathing machine or feeding tubes for the rest of my life? If I developed a terminal condition, did I want the doctors to undertake heroic measures to keep my body alive if I were brain-dead and had no hope of recovery?].
Are you prepared — even if the emergency turns out to be only temporary? What kind of medical care would you want if you were too ill or hurt to express your wishes? Instead of putting it off any longer, you and your parent should have these basic medical documents in place:
- Living Will
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (Health Care Proxy)
A living will is not the same as a will. A will tells people how you want your assets and other belongings to be distributed among your heirs.
On the other hand, a living will is an advance directive that tells which medical treatments you want if you are dying or permanently unconscious. You can accept or refuse medical care. You might want to include instructions on:
- The use of dialysis and breathing machines
- If you want to be resuscitated if your breathing or heartbeat stops
- Tube feeding
- Organ or tissue donation
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (Health Care Proxy)
A durable power of attorney for health care is a another advance directive. This one names your health care proxy. Your proxy is someone you trust to make health decisions for you if you are unable to do so. In my case, my health care proxy is my wife.
Once again, starting a conversation with your parent about health matters may be far easier said than done. Expressing your concerns is certainly one way to start. But, be careful to express your concerns in a way that does not patronize or embarrass your parent. Above all, don’t use phrases like “You need to …” or “I need you to …” or ‘You have to …”.
In my case, my mother and father had already completed their advance directives before I became involved in their care. If someone were to ask me for my advice as to how best to approach their parent, I’d suggest doing it as soon as you’ve both completed your health histories. But, if you haven’t already done yours, do them first before you ask your parent to do theirs.
Actually, it’s quite easy. My wife and I stopped by the hospital where I was going to have surgery back in 2006, and simply asked for the forms at the registration desks. Not only did they help us fill them out, but they also signed our forms as witnesses, as required by Florida law. They made a copy for their own records and gave us the originals along with several copies for our own use. The next time we visited our doctor, we gave him a copy of both sets of forms to put in our files.
Advance directives and living wills don’t have to be complicated legal documents. You can Download Your State’s Advance Directives by clicking on the link.
- Or, use a form provided by your doctor or hospital;
- Write your wishes down by yourself;
- Call your health department or state department on aging to get a form; or
- Use a computer software package for legal documents.
Finally, if your wishes are more complex than the solutions offered by the suggestions above, consult with a competent attorney who specializes in elder law or estate law (not an attorney who claims they can handle everything). While their fees may seem somewhat expensive, they could be one of the best “investments” you and your parent will ever make. A competent elder law attorney will help you avoid more costly problems down the road, and will help alleviate many other frustrations that seem to come hand-in-hand with being a caregiver.
To find a nearby attorney who specializes in elder and estate law, simply do a Google search. In my case, I searched “elder law sarasota fl” and “estate law sarasota fl.”