Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Watch the 13 on Your Side Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
At Emmanuel Hospice we ask our patients, “How do you want to live?” With over 200 years of combined caregiving experience, we know that helping people find peace of mind at the end of their lives requires a plan. An important part of this plan is an advance directive – commonly referred to as a living will. A living will allows you to express your medical wishes if you become unable to communicate them yourself. Creating one often includes having hard conversations about the inevitability of death with your family and loved ones, which is why we’re here to offer you some helpful insight on the topic so that you might feel motivated to make one of your own. We can’t stop death, but with a strong plan for making the most of every moment, we can enjoy the time that’s left.
What is an Advance Directive?
Simply put, it’s your healthcare choices written down so that if you’re unable to speak for yourself, others know what your decisions are. It allows you to choose the best person to honor your decisions, often called your durable power of attorney. It doesn’t have to be a family member, it can also be a friend or a designated patient advocate. The gift of this legal document is that it allows you to say to your family and friends, at a time of great stress, that they don’t have to make these difficult decisions for you.
How do you make an Advance Directive?
The process of creating an advance directive is easy from a technical perspective, but emotionally it may be more difficult. Many people hire a lawyer to help them prepare it, but Making Choices Michiganoffers a free service for creating one.
Who should have an Advance Directive?
Every adult should have an advance directive – but it’s common for people in their 30s and 40s to complete them because that time of life is often about planning for the future. People who are older and either foresee or have advanced health issues in their lives should also create one. For those with advance directives already in place and wanting others to do the same, these are opportune times to have that conversation with them.
What are the risks of not having an Advance Directive?
While people are not legally required to have one, the drawback is that the state will determine what happens to you in nearly every situation. Healthcare providers will keep you alive as long as possible and a legal process will be required if someone wants you to be taken off life support. A guardianship process will also occur, and it can become combative if the court chooses that person for you. This particular process can also be expensive, and you may not ultimately end up with the person you want making decisions for you or the decisions you wanted to be made.
When is the best time to think about an Advance Directive?
Thinking about it when you’re healthy eliminates additional stress you might feel, say, if you were going into a major surgery. Think about it for a few minutes on a morning where you’re feeling good. Often, people think about it after one of the following life events known as the “Five Ds” – a death in the family, a divorce, a major diagnosis, a discharge from the hospital, or a new decade.
What is the best way to start an Advance Directive?
When you’re thinking about the living will portion of the document, think about how you want to feel in your last days. Consider your religious beliefs and what it means to be in a situation where there is a low medical probability to come back to regular life. In that moment, what do you want to be able to say? These are the things you’ll include in your advance directive.
What happens if I want to change my Advance Directive?
The document can be changed and amended fully at any time, provided you are of sound mind to do so. Most people update their advance directive two or three times over the course of their lives. For example, once before getting married with your parents or a friend as your decision maker, again when you get married and switch that to your spouse, and possibly again when your spouse is unable to make sound decisions and children are designated as the decision makers. Another important thing to note is that you can name more than one person to be a decision maker, meaning you can designate backups, in the event that the first person chosen is not fit to serve.
How is an Advance Directive different than a Last Will and Testament?
Think of your living will as your healthcare planning document. A last will and testament are about financial planning and where you want your assets to go when you pass away. They are unrelated, but both are very important to your wishes being carried out.
What should I do once I create an Advance Directive?
The first thing you should do is to let people know that you’ve created one. It’s only useful if other people – family members, caregivers and, the healthcare system, know about it. Hospitals can scan a copy of your advance directive into their system so that if anything happens, it’s easily accessible. In addition, the Great Lakes Health Connect is a registry that you can upload your advance directive to.
At Emmanuel Hospice, we always ask, “How do you want to live?” An advance directive can help answer that question, in your own words, when it’s needed most.
For more information, give us a call at 616.719.0919 or visit our website at www.emmanuelhospice.org.