What if I told you I can see you in the future: needing healthcare but being unable to make the decisions necessary to attain it? I have many friends who, for the life of them, refuse to talk about a dreaded day in the future when they may become incapacitated—let alone think about giving up their decision-making to someone else.
Imagine I just got off of a delayed flight and hustled my way through a foreign airport to get into a rental car. It has been a hectic and rainy morning. An impending meeting with a client and potential buyers of her business in an hour keeps me preoccupied, and I don’t realize I’m in danger until I’m already hit.
Later, I find out that someone hydroplaned on the wet road and ran into me, rendering me unconscious. In an instant, this great advocate cannot advocate for anyone—let alone herself. I am hospitalized and much to my chagrin, they track down my ex-husband, because I never got around to updating my healthcare proxy.
Luckily, I survive this catastrophe, but what if my injuries had been serious enough to warrant my placement in a long-term care facility for rehabilitation? My ex-husband certainly would not have had my best interests at heart when making this decision. In this hypothetical I was safe, but a mentor of mine always said, “leave nothing to chance.” If I am unable to advocate for my own healthcare wishes due to an illness or injury, how can I be sure I get the care I want?
Preparing for the Possibilities
A healthcare power of attorney, living will, and visitation directive can make life smoother for you and your loved ones. A healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to. This document is especially important if the person you choose as your agent is not your legal spouse.
First, think of who this person may be and discuss your wishes with them so they have solid direction and feel comfortable being your agent in an emergency situation. Then, let it be known! Especially if your agent is not your spouse or family member, you do not want this to come as a surprise to them or your family while they are under duress.
It’s fine to have more than one person in mind, as you will want a backup (otherwise known as a successor) should your primary appointed agent be unable to act in this role. In addition, don’t forget to list who can request and receive medical information about you from your healthcare providers.
The Importance of a Living Will
Whoever your trusted legal counsel may be, they will bring up the subject of a living will. A living will is as its name suggests—a document of your will (choices) while you are alive so that your wishes are known if at some point you are unable to communicate them. Your living will could include instructions related to resuscitation, feeding or breathing tubes, and pain medication. It is crucial to make the decisions now to keep your future self safe.
My mother-in-law originally made a verbal decision that her son and daughter would make the choice together about what would happen to her if she were to be on life support. Her daughter said she would keep her on and pray for a miracle, whereas her son said he would make the difficult decision to remove life support. When my mother-in-law saw the disagreement her children had regarding the decision, she realized that drafting a living will could put an end to their disagreement.
After your make your decision and draft your living will document, you should share your wishes with loved ones to help release potential angst and arguments. It will also give you the opportunity to discuss your choices with anyone who may raise objections.
Don’t Let Important Documents Slip through the Cracks
- Visitation Directives: Who do you want as a visitor in your healthcare facility, and who do you prefer to stay away? You and your attorney can draft a visitation directive that puts in writing who can visit you and, if you are so inclined, add in who you prefer stays away. According to federal law, no hospital or long-term care facility can deny your wishes regarding who can visit you. This doesn’t mean you won’t encounter resistance, but such a document can serve as the final say.
- Burial Instructions: Your burial is your last chance to have a say in your life, and you can create a document regarding who has the authority to give burial instructions on your behalf. Your attorney should check your state’s laws to define what documentation is appropriate.
Once you have your healthcare documents in order and feel great about your decisions, make sure that you and other key people have copies in case of an emergency. In today’s world, digital files will also suffice.
You Can Have Control, but Only if You Take It Now
Left unattended, these important documents will fail to serve you, so review your life situation and documentation on a regular basis and update them as needed. Keep your documents current so you can stay in control of your health and your wishes, and live your best life all the way through!
Nina Azwoir, First Vice President of Investments, Wintrust Wealth Management. © Morningstar 2020. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. Securities, insurance products, financial planning, and investment management services offered through Wintrust Investments, LLC (Member FINRA/SIPC), founded in 1931. Trust and asset management services offered by The Chicago Trust Company, N.A. and Great Lakes Advisors, LLC, respectively. Investment products such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are: NOT FDIC INSURED | NOT BANK GUARANTEED | MAY LOSE VALUE | NOT A DEPOSIT | NOT INSURED BY ANY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY.