What legal directives should I be mindful of approaching end of life?
If you have considered or are considering the important healthcare, financial and other choices you would make at the end of your life—or if someone close to you has arrived at a point of needing information—a definition of legal terms and options may provide focus. The following are elements essential to your planning:
Advance directives allow people to plan their health care before they become unable to make sound decisions for themselves.
There are generally two documents involved. The first is a living will. This document allows you to make your wishes known about the care you would like to receive at the end of life, including preferences regarding medical procedures.
A “living will” document called Five Wishes has become, since it was introduced in 1997, the most popular living will in America largely because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness.
Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
- Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them
- The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want
- How comfortable you want to be
- How you want people to treat you
- What you want your loved ones to know.
More than 14 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 23,000 organizations. Five Wishes meets legal requirements in 42 states, including North Carolina, and is useful in all 50.
To get a copy of the Five Wishes planning document and/or to learn about it, contact Medi Home Hospice (828) 733-0663 or visit www.agingwithdignity.org.
The second document contained in an advance directive is a health care proxy, also known as a durable power of attorney for health care (DPOA). In this document, you appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so—a preference folded into Five Wishes. You’ll need to speak with your proxy, or DPOA, about your directive, making sure that he or she both understands your wishes and is willing to carry them out.
What is estate planning?
“Estate planning” is a process to set up legally effective arrangements that would meet your specific wishes if “something happens” to you or those you care about. Good estate planning is more than “just a simple will.” Estate planning also typically minimizes potential taxes and fees, and includes planning (see above) to make sure your wishes regarding health care treatment are followed. On the financial side, a good estate plan coordinates what would happen with your home, your investments, your business, your life insurance, your employee benefits (such as a pension plan), and other property in the event you became disabled or if you die.
When should I start my estate plan?
The only time that you can prepare and implement an estate plan is while you are alive and have legal capacity to enter into a contract. If you are unable to manage your own affairs or suffer from some other disability which affects your legal capacity, your estate plan may be effectively challenged by those who assert that you lacked capacity at the time the documents were created. The best time to start an estate plan is now, while you have the thorough-going capacity to do so.
What about power of attorney and guardianship? How do they work?
Power of attorney allows you to appoint someone in advance to make financial decisions for you should you become unable to make them yourself. These include but are not limited to transactions involving real property, stock, banking, business affairs, and insurance matters.
Guardianship can be used in the event a person becomes incompetent and does not have advance directives. A family member may then need to file for guardianship through the clerk of court. If the court supports a finding of incompetence, then a guardian for the person and his or her estate will be appointed.