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End of Life Issues

There’s no easy way to start discussing end of life issues. It’s normal for people to experience all sorts of emotions. Fear about your future and the future of family and friends is common. So, too, is a sense of acceptance and resolve to enjoy the remaining days. Different people respond differently. But there’s one piece of advice that’s generally good for everyone: it helps to be prepared.

The legal system is frequently called on to address end of life issues. A major source of concern arises when people become incapacitated in their old age. Healthcare decisions still need to be made and financial affairs still need to be managed. All of these issues are important and can benefit from proper planning. This article provides an overview of some major end of life issues and what you can do to prepare for them.

Healthcare Decisions

Healthcare decisions are a sensitive subject. As people grow older, they may lose the ability to make decisions and communicate them to doctors and family members. Doctors often have their own ideas about what should be done from a medical point of view, while family and friends may struggle to determine the best course of action. However, you can plan ahead for these types of situations. Here are some options for preparing to deal with healthcare-related end of life issues:

Prepare an Advance Health Care Directive

An Advance Health Care Directive is a non-binding document that contains your healthcare wishes should you become incapacitated. People often use advance health care directives to specify what kind of medical treatment they want to receive, whether they’d prefer to be in a hospital or care facility, and issues such as organ donation and artificial life support. An advance health care directive sets out your wishes for doctors and family members to refer to later on. It’s relatively easy to prepare, but generally isn’t binding on anyone in situations where a doctor has an objection to your wishes.

Prepare a Living Will

A living will is a binding document that serves the same purpose as an advance health care directive. A living will contains your directions for your own care – whatever they might be. Many people use a living will to direct doctors to withhold treatment at a certain stage, while other people direct their doctors to use all possible means to extend their life. A living will differs from an advance health care directive in that it is legally binding, meaning your doctors are legally required to follow your wishes.

Grant a Power of Attorney for Healthcare

You might prefer to appoint someone to make care decisions for you. Granting a power of attorney for healthcare to someone you trust will empower him or her to make decisions on your behalf. A power of attorney for healthcare can be detailed and drafted to specify your wishes much like with an advance health care directive or living will. It’s commonly used to give decision-making power to an unmarried partner or friend, someone who otherwise wouldn’t have the authority to make these decisions for you.

Financial Decisions

Managing property and finances can become challenging as you near the end of life. Bills, taxes, investment decisions, and business considerations never cease to pile up. Yet many people lose the ability to handle their own affairs or lose track of them as healthcare decisions take priority. You can prepare to deal with these issues as well.

Giving someone a durable financial power of attorney is an option. Should you become incapacitated, a designated person will be able to manage your financial affairs. They will be able to pay bills and taxes in your name, manage your real estate and investments, access your financial records, buy insurance for you, collect retirement benefits, and pay for health insurance.

You may also want to consider creating a living trust. A trust pools together whatever property is placed into it to be managed by an appointed trustee. Trusts are flexible things; you can specify how things should be done in the trust instrument and appoint someone you trust to manage it as the trustee. 

If you need help in developing an estate plan or setting out your healthcare wishes, it's in your best interests to consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning law.

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