Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's an Advance Health Care Directive?

**This post was originally published in my monthly e-newsletter, Lelah's News. Don't subscribe? Sign up here!

My Grandpa Jack.
Last fall my grandfather passed away. He was 86 and had been in fairly good health before a stroke occurred from which he was unable to recover. He had suffered from Alzheimer's in the last years of his life, and I was able to visit with him often since I moving back to California six years ago. I miss him dearly.

Though his final years weren’t always easy for him with his memory loss, his quality of life was good. My family members and I were able to provide him with a level of care that kept him in his home until the end, and we knew when the time came what his wishes regarding his end-of-life transition were. We knew these even though he couldn’t communicate with us because he had them set down in writing via an Advance Health Care Directive. The eleven-page document set down his wishes regarding everything from who had his power of attorney for health care and the use of artificial life-sustaining procedures, to his desire to live independently for as long as possible at home and his views on organ donation.

I can’t stress enough how vital it was that my family and I had this document, in addition to the rest of his estate planning documents (trust, power of attorney, etc.) at the ready when we needed it. It was a tremendous gift not to have to guess what my grandfather wanted in the last weeks of his life, and to be able to provide for him a dignified and pain-free transition. The amazing hospice we worked with had a large part to do with that, but it was having the legal power and the knowledge in writing that we were doing what my grandfather wanted that made that very difficult time easier.

It can be stressful to think about end-of-life decisions, no matter what stage of life you are in. But the benefits to yourself and your family members far outweigh the discomfort of answering the questions about what your wishes are or the cost of getting them set down in writing.

If you don’t have your estate documents prepared and current, please don’t wait. Make it happen. You will be glad you did.

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