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End of Life Issues

As a person nears the end of life, there are many questions and concerns that may arise, especially decisions that legally impact both you and your family. For example, you may be suffering from a debilitating physical or mental illness and not sure how to conduct the activities in your daily affairs. Similarly, you may be wondering what will happen to your family, finances, and well-being should your situation affect your ability to think on your own.

Below are important legal questions to consider regarding end-of-life issues.

Do you have a living will?

It is imperative that an elderly parent have a living will, also known as a medical directive. This document provides written instructions for the care of the parent if they are not able to make decisions for themselves (such as being in a coma). State law controls the creation of living wills, so check your states laws when drafting a living will.

Have you appointed a health care agent?

In case of situations not covered by a living will, an elderly parent should name a health care agent, who will make medical decisions for them when they are not able. The health care agent cannot override the express wishes of a living will, but rather is there to make decisions when situations and complications arise that are not covered by a living will.

Is it your choice to prolong life (through resuscitation) if you face imminently death or become unconscious?

It may be your desire (or not) to prolong life through generally accepted life preserving methods. For example, you may wish to have a “do not resuscitate” order in place if you do not wish for your physician to attempt life-saving measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event of cardiac arrest.This is a quality of life issue, and to avoid confusion your should set forth your desires on this issue in a DNR order.

In what manner would you like your remains to be treated upon death?

Finally, an often overlooked end-of-life issues is whether you have any final wishes or instructions as to how you would like your remains to be treated at death. For example, you may wish to be cremated or buried, or have your organs donated to science. While it is very difficult to think of these things while you are still alive, it is important to put your wishes in writing if you have strong feelings about it.

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