May 1 is law day, we all know that, but did you that May is Elder Law Month? And the issue for elders is not so much to do with age as with planning. For yourself, and for those you love who have reached their senior years, consider the three D’s: disability, destruction, and death.
Begin planning now for all three. Begin by tackling two basic components:
- Prepare a written Advance Directive, often called a Living Will, and Durable Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy.
- Appoint someone to be your trusted agent to speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself regarding health care decisions.
Advance Directives or Living Wills are legal documents that state your wishes about medical decisions. The documents specify your health care desires to family members and medical professionals when you are unable to communicate them due to a serious illness or injury. Advance Directives may consist of one or more documents. Laws about these critical documents vary from state to state. In some states, there are statutory forms that individuals can print, fill out and sign before witnesses. In other states, both statutory forms and customized Advance Directive documents are allowed. In all states, individuals may add more specific and personalized clauses to their Advance Directives. In Colorado, the Colorado Bar Association provides pertinent information at: http://www.cobar.org/Advance-Medical-Directives.
These health care planning documents can be very specific in the instructions that you leave. In a Living Will, sometimes referred to as a Health Care Declaration, you may state your preferences for health care if you have a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. This document can list your wishes for pain management at the end of life, can instruct doctors and other health care staff on the type of treatments you do or do not want, and can provide for spiritual, emotional and comfort items that you would like to be present at the end of life.
It is important for you to appoint a trusted agent to speak for you when you are unable to speak for yourself with respect to medical decisions. The legal documents can be more general if you wish to have your agent make decisions in keeping with your known wishes. You can change your agent and the instructions that you give as long as you retain the mental capacity to understand the change you are making. Once a trusted agent is appointed, it is vital that you discuss your desires with your agent, your loved ones and your doctor. The discussions will serve to further clarify your specific wishes and priorities as they relate to health care decision making.