A great time for a discussion on Healthcare Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and end-of-life decisions is with everyone sitting around the table at Thanksgiving. It may not seem that these topics are “fun” to discuss while your family is giving thanks for the delicious food, for being together and for any other good things that happened during the past year, but it is a good time to look ahead and plan for a time when a crisis may occur.
These topics may be raised by parents or by children. For example, parents may say that they have recently met with their elder law attorney to do long term care planning and are having Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills prepared. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a legal document in which the Principal gives authority to an Agent to make medical decisions, including treatment, placement in a personal care home or nursing facility, and hiring or firing caregivers. Parents may then talk about their own choices for medical care and ask their children about their views. Parents may offer their own end-of-life preferences and discuss who in the family would be able to care out their wishes.
This can lead into a conversation about Living Wills, which are a set of instructions to be used by a doctor or a hospital that speaks when the patient cannot and indicates what medical treatment the patient wants or does not want if the patient has an end-stage medical condition and/or is permanently unconscious. A Living Will may include choices for CPR, mechanical breathing, surgery, hydration, blood transfusions, antibiotics, etc. It specifically deals with tube feedings and organ donation. It allows the patient to choose a surrogate decision maker to whom medical personnel may talk.
If your family did not discuss Healthcare Powers of Attorney, Living Wills and end-of-life decisions over Thanksgiving this year, your family may want to have this conversation at your next holiday gathering. It is better have the discussion and plan ahead rather than to be forced to make decisions without any information on your parents’ preferences during a family crisis.