Sunday, December 16, 2012

What legal documents does my aging parent need to insure their end- of-life medical wishes are followed?

By Bob Gregory

As the child of an aging parent it can sometimes be difficult to discuss end-of-life decisions. Will my parent think I am expecting or waiting for them to die? Will I hurt their feelings by asking their feelings about end-of-life care? It can be a daunting task, but it is imperative that your parents’ wishes be legally documented. This discussion needs to take place before your parent becomes ill or incapacitated. You can open the conversation by explaining to your parent that you are concerned that if they become ill you will have to make medical decisions for them and you need their help understanding their wishes. Most children and parents feel a greater emotional bond after they have discussed end-of-life care. Once you have discussed these issues with your parent the following legal documents will guide family members and healthcare providers in your parent’s medical care if they are unable to speak for themselves.

Last Will And Testament
Last Will And Testament (Photo credit: Ken_Mayer)
v  A Living Will is a document that conveys your parent’s wishes about the use of life-sustaining medical treatments at the end of their life. It is used to guide health care providers and loved ones in making medical decisions. Some states do not allow families to make health care decisions for a loved one without a Living Will, so your parent needs to understand that this is for their protection. In most states, two physicians must certify that your parent is unable to make medical decisions before their Living Will becomes effective.

v  A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that appoints someone (a Healthcare Surrogate) to deal with medical situations if your parent cannot make decisions for themselves. This person will make sure your parent’s wishes are honored and will address healthcare issues that cannot be addressed in writing. Your parent should appoint someone who they know will honor their wishes and be strong enough to make difficult decisions. It does not have to be a family member, but it should be someone who will communicate openly and honestly with the family. Your parent should have a lengthy discussion with their Healthcare Surrogate about their wishes. For example, if your parent has a terminal illness do they want artificial nutrition and hydration if they are no longer able to take them by mouth? Do they want to be put on a respirator if they cannot breathe on their own? By discussing these types of scenarios the Healthcare Surrogate will have an understanding of what your parent’s wishes are.

Both of these documents are vital for your parent’s end-of-life medical wishes to be followed. If the Healthcare Surrogate is unavailable to make decisions, your parent’s Living Will can guide decision making. Most states have both of these forms available.

After these documents have been completed, copies should be given to your parent’s physician and family members. Your parent needs to communicate with family members why they chose the person that will be their Healthcare Surrogate and that this person will be the only one making the end of life decisions and interpreting the Living Will.  Finally, your parent should consider having a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) in place and many Senior Facilities require forms such as these to be in place when your parent becomes a resident.  The DNR requires a more in-depth conversation and we will address the DNR in future writings.

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If you would like to contribute your thoughts and ideas, please leave them in our comment section. We want to hear them. Helping people care for themselves or their loved ones is what we care about. 

We look forward to reading yours.

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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