Opinion: Why You Need a Living Will and Health Directive

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In the previous columns, I have discussed how you can establish a do-it-yourself estate plan or pass property on to a spouse, and when you really need a will. I’ll end this estate planning series with a look at what may be the most important document you can sign: the Living Will and Advance Health Care Directive. A living will is your way of telling medical professionals and your loved ones what you want them to do when you cannot tell them yourself because you are in a coma, have had a stroke, or are in a situation where medical professionals and their families must decide what steps to take to save their life or ease their pain.

Read: Avoid These Three Estate Planning Mistakes and Make Succession Cheaper and Easier for Your Loved Ones A study published in 2014 found that only 26% of the US adult population had some form of advance directive , though nearly eight in 10 people in residential care facilities had such directives in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But what really counts when it is literally a matter of life and death? I spoke to someone on the front lines who deals with these day-to-day issues: Jeannie Meyer, a clinical nurse palliative care specialist at UCLA Health and president of the Los Angeles regional chapter of the Association of Hospice and Palliative Nurses. Doctors, nurses and families faced this critical decision many times in the past year, when 30 million Americans were affected by COVID-19 and tens of thousands, particularly older patients, went to intensive care units (ICUs). ), where they often couldn’t. Communicate with spouses or family members about their care. Read: Should I Make A Will Online? How to avoid these pitfalls “COVID, if anything, has really highlighted the importance of planning ahead for care and making sure not only are your wishes clear, but your loved ones know about them,” Meyer said. Many people think of these directives as “do not resuscitate” orders, and Meyer told me that patients and families even have misconceptions about them. Your heart has stopped. You are no longer breathing. You have died, ”he said. “What we are trying to do with a revival effort is bring you back into this existence.” And, he added, “by recovering them, I mean that we recover a beating heart. I am not referring to the quality of life ”. Young, healthy people have a much better prognosis with resuscitation than older patients with pre-existing conditions, he noted. But resuscitation is not the only problem you will have to deal with. “We have now moved forward in our advanced healthcare directive where what we are asking people to identify for us in most of these cases is what constitutes an acceptable quality of life for you. And if we can’t give you that quality of life back, what would you or would you not want us to do if you could survive with a quality of life that would not be acceptable to you? Without a living will, he said, doctors will do whatever they can to “save” a patient, no matter what state that person is in afterward. Read: Recreating the financial life of a loved one is difficult: 5 steps to take after a death in the family Once you decide what you would like medical professionals to do or not do, you must choose an agent to carry out your directives . It could be a spouse or family member, a close friend, or a professional who knows you well. “Whichever you choose as your decision maker, make sure it is someone who can put their own interests aside and do what you want them to do, because you are putting the rest of your existence in that person’s hands.” Meyer said. You should also have a conversation with your spouse or partner and your family, so that there are no misunderstandings if they are faced with a situation where you cannot communicate. None of this is pleasant to deal with, but it is necessary, often more for the people you love than for yourself. So if you have prepared a living will, you should review it periodically. “It’s not a one-time thing,” he said. “People get divorced, decision makers die, people fight each other, so you need to be prepared to complete another directive. And in that moment, you have to stop and think, is the quality of life that I thought was my line in the sand before is still my line in the sand? “Who should have a living will and advance care directive? Everyone over the age of 18 said.” So please, please do it. Do it now. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t assume you have more. time; you may not. ”