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The Importance of Wills, Living Wills, and Advance Health Care Directives

One of the toughest challenges you may face with an aging loved one is talking about the importance of a will, living will, or an advance health care directive. This is often an uncomfortable subject to bring up and you may find some resistance to the topic, but it’s a discussion that can help alleviate confusion and stress down the road. Before you talk, it’s a good idea to become a little more familiar with the importance of these documents and the basic differences between them.

A will contains your wishes for how to distribute your property after you pass away. Why is that important? By making a will, you decide exactly who gets what. Your family won’t need to wonder, debate or possibly even argue about what your wishes were. If you have minors, it can also name a guardian to take care of your children.

Living Wills
A living will gives instructions to your family and doctors on how to treat you if you become incapacitated. Why is that important? In this document you can be specific on what medical care and life sustaining measures you do or do not want in terms of treatment.

Advance Health Care Directive
An advance health care directive, which encompasses a living will, is a written set of directions that lets your family and doctors know your medical care preferences. Why is that important? Your family and doctors will consult your advance directive if you are unable to make your own health care decisions. In addition to a living will, an advance health care directive can also include a medical or health care power of attorney (POA) or a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, if you so choose. A POA designates an individual to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable. A DNR order is a request to not have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. This may be included at your discretion.
All of these matters should be discussed before your loved one is unable to make these kinds of decisions. Consider the following tips on how to approach the conversation.

Be Honest
If your loved one hasn’t spoken about a will or advance health care directive, sincerely approach them about the issue and have an honest conversation. Tell them your thoughts and ask how they feel about preparing a will and planning for medical decisions that may need to be made in the future. Avoid coming off as aggressive, threatening, or secretive. Consider the time and environment that would be best to have the conversation – somewhere you both feel most comfortable.

Be Willing
Your loved one may need help to research how to prepare these documents, and a consultation with an attorney might be needed (legal requirements can vary by state). It can be confusing, so be willing to offer assistance when needed.

Be Empathetic
Put yourself in your loved ones shoes. Aging, and the potential loss of independence are not easy to deal with. So make sure that you let your loved ones know that you understand how difficult it may be for them and that you’re willing to lend a helping hand.
Establishing a will, living will, or advance health care directive is not just for older adults. End-of-life situations can happen to anyone at anytime – so it’s important for all adults to consider these issues.


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