Getting To The Hereafter
By Jeanette Pontacq
Do you have a health directive or living will in case you end up in a hospital? Probably not, if statistics are correct. Well, you should have one. The need for everyone to take the time to create one was highlighted by the recent and tragic case of Terry Schiavo. Jeb Bush of Florida is already out there demanding we all live, live, live, even as vegetables. Even after it has been shown that she was clinically brain dead and blind. If Schiavo had had a directive in place, signed and witnessed, none of the sorry spectacle that occurred would have happened. Without such a directive these days, ones end can degenerate into a humiliating and sad fiasco, managed by others.
Death is not a subject most Americans are willing to address, especially for themselves or their loved ones. The truth, however, is that we are all going to die. There will be no exceptions. As a matter of fact, once born, every single living being on this earth is destined to die. Sorry about that, folks. It makes total sense and self-protection to have a plan in place for the time leading up to death. It is odd that Americans are so into "control," but mostly leave the very important moments of their final days to others, often burdening family and friends with decisions they should not have to make.
So, how does one go about getting a health directive? It's actually quite easy. Several organizations offer pre-done forms that you can fill out and sign. West Marin Senior Services (415 663 8148), for example, has a very good health directive you can get free, fill out, sign and have witnessed. Or, you can take a look at my personal favorite, 5 Wishes. The 5 Wishes directive comes from Aging with Dignity in Florida (Box 1661, Tallahassee, FL 32302-1661). You can order it by phone, mail or online
Their phone is (850) 681-2010. They charge $5 per copy to cover their costs. Having the directive is priceless.
Who should have one? Simple answer: EVERYONE. You. And Your Friends. And Your Relatives. No matter what age you have. Gosh, Terry Schiavo was in her twenties! *&^%$ happens! Pay attention.
The best forms (like 5 Wishes) ask you questions about how you want your last days to be handled. The questions are direct, logical and timely. They don't beat around the bush. Answering them gives you a huge amount of control over how your last days will occur. YOU DO NOT NEED A LAWYER. And you can change your directive whenever you want. (i.e. get more than one copy sent to you)
When you fill out 5 Wishes, or another directive, you can assign a Health Care Agent to act for you, and make sure your wishes are fulfilled, when you are unable to do so. For myself, I have chosen a very old friend whom I trust and respect, to act for me in case of need. And I have been chosen by someone else to act for him in his final days. Left alone, without a Health Care Agent to watch out for you and make sure you get what you need, a sojourn in a hospital can be less than good. Not always, but it has that potential. Why take a chance? GET ONE!!
Since we are on the subject - it is also a good thing, when planning ahead to protect one's self, to PUT A FINANCIAL LIMITED POWER OF ATTORNEY IN PLACE for any emergency when you are not able to act for yourself. This means that a trusted friend or relative could act in your stead to pay bills and keep your interests secure while you are unable to do so, either temporarily (in the case of sickness) or your final incapacitation. I have seen the value of such a document up close and personal, when an older friend had a stroke and ended up in critical care, unable to order feed for his stock or employ workers to come in and do the needed work at a small ranch. Without a limited power of attorney to pay for what was needed, his friends were reduced to ordering feed and other things via their own funds. With no thought of being paid back in case the patient died and his heirs didn't feel like reimbursing us.
Again, one needs to choose someone to hold that financial limited power of attorney in case of need. Usually, not the same person already chosen to be the Health Care Agent.
AND THEN THERE IS A WILL OR TRUST. Yes, you need one of those too. No matter what age you are, as long as you have assets and family or friends. You can access information on all this, and even get forms for it, online at www.lawdepot.com, www.findlegalforms.com, or www.legalzoom.com. You can google more. For those of you who do not use the internet for things like this, a lawyer will be a good choice.
There are many reasons to have the three (3) documents in place (health directive, limited power of attorney for finance, and a will/trust). The greatest is to protect yourself. But, second, it is to define how you want your friends and relatives to think of you in sickness or death. Are you going to be a time-consuming burden or a loved, respected and appreciated friend or relative in need? It's your choice. I suggest you get all three documents in place NOW.
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