Now more than ever, when COVID-19 has forced all of us, regardless of age or condition, to confront our mortality, it is essential that we have our legal documents in place. The essential legal documents are: (1) a Last Will and Testament (to name beneficiaries [who gets your stuff] and the executor of your estate [who manages your stuff]); (2) a Durable Power of Attorney (agent for financial decisions); and (3) a Healthcare Power of Attorney (agent for healthcare decisions). Additionally, one may wish to have a Living Will (for a terminal condition or permanent vegitative state), DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate), and HIPPA release (Health Information Privacy Protection Act to enable healthcare providers to speak to a family member).
It is imperative that our loved ones know our wishes, so that when the time comes and things are stressful and emotional, they will be able to voice what life decisions we want made. Every adult, 18 years and older, should have their legal documents done before a crisis occurs. And what do I mean by “before a crisis occurs?” I mean before it’s too late and one no longer has the physical and/or mental capacity to execute legal documents. One may be catapulted into this situation as a result of an accident, injury, or illness. For example, one may get into a car or bike accident, suffer an injury playing sports, trip on a pet, slip on the ice, have a stroke or contract COVID-19.
For some people, their decline may be slower and it is particularly important for someone with a dementia diagnosis to have their legal documents in place. For one, this allows someone to decide what they want to do regarding their care in the future. Many people believe dementia and Altzheimer’s are diagnoses that only affect “old people.” You might be surprised to learn that approximately “6% of the people with dementia are under 65” (Rooks, Tronetti). Secondly, getting these documents done should be that spark that initiates the flame of having The Talk. It does not have to be the difficult and daunting, pink elephant in the room, that no one wants to discuss conversation. You can actually set the tone and make it celebratory. We place SO much emphasis on birth and many plan well in advance and come together for this new little one. If only we could accept that aging is a gift denied to so many and death is just as much a part of life as is birth, we could discuss these topics with grace and confidence and not in a hushed tone that implies, “Maybe if I whisper, it won’t actually happen.”
The Talk should include some key points like:
- whether or not you want to be kept alive on life support and for how long
- whether or not you want a feeding tube and/or ventilator and for how long
- do you want a religious/pastoral service and if so, who would you like to lead the service
- do you want to be buried or cremated and where
- if cremated, where do you want your ashes to go
Many people put off having their documents done because they simply don’t want to deal with a lawyer or think about their mortality. It is not nearly as costly or daunting a process as one might think. It’s the kind of thing you know you need to do but really don’t want to, and once it’s done, you’re so glad you did and it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, having your legal documents in place provides immeasurable solace knowing that things are finally in place. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll really enjoy crossing this biggie off your to-do list!
About the Author: Heather Greene is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and a Certified Elder Care Coordinator. She helps individuals and their families cope with permanent disability, terminal illness, and end of life issues to help people live their best lives, while providing support to their loved ones. Her passion is in strengthening and empowering clients to create and reach their goals and enhancing spiritual development. Heather works with her husband, Bradley L. Greene, who is an Elder Law attorney in Lyndhurst, Ohio. In focusing on clients’ needs and goals, Heather and Bradley bring their positive energy into their work and strive to create solutions that bring peace of mind for their clients.
When asked how they came to feel passionate about Elder Law, Heather remembers visiting her father-in-law in the hospital in 2002, “When Bradley’s dad became sick, the whole family was faced with numerous care-giving obstacles and subsequently we recognized that older adults and their families need support and advocacy to navigate the confusing maze of Elder Care and Elder Law. We were grateful to fulfill Dad’s wishes and have him home for his end of life care.” Now the family collectively supports Heather’s mother-in-law who is 92 years old, legally blind, and is still able to live on her own.