And if they haven’t yet made a will, living will, and other end-of-life decisions, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to discuss this
As your family gathers around the holiday table this Thanksgiving, give your parents a big thank-you if they have taken care of their late-in-life affairs. No matter your parents’ health or their age, anyone who ponders difficult end-of-life decisions is giving a huge gift to their family and deserves your thanks.
Why? Because in all my years as a probate attorney, I have seen how heartbreaking it is for someone to try to discern what their parent may have wanted if the unthinkable happens: What do they want their final days to be like? Do they want extraordinary measures taken to save their life? And once they pass away, how would they have wanted their assets to be distributed?
It’s understandable that many people don’t want to think about these things; the idea of death is fraught with emotion. But I have seen the anguish in a child’s eyes—even if that child is 50 or 60 or even 70 years old—when these decisions about their parent fall onto them.
That’s why these are crucial topics to discuss with any living parent, and to make sure they follow through with actions.
If your parents have not yet created the legal documents to execute their wishes, please share with them during the holidays why this is so important to you.
Your Parents Should Make Their Own End-of-Life Decisions
Imagine if your parent were in a serious accident or had a sudden stroke, heart attack, or severe infection. They could be lying unconscious in a hospital, hooked up to life-supporting machines. Would they want to remain indefinitely in this state, or would they want to be removed from the machines that are breathing or beating their heart for them? Would you want to have to decide this for them? After all, each person has their own unique thoughts about this situation, based on their personal desires, religion, and life experiences.
What’s more, perhaps your parent has a vision in their own mind for how they want their final days to transpire even if no life-saving interventions are involved, but you don’t know what it is. And are you certain that the way the courts would distribute their assets after their death if they have no will are consistent with what they would desire?
Ensuring that your parents wishes are clarified and honored are done through several legal documents that can easily be created by an attorney.
Encourage Them to Create a Living Will
If your parents do not yet have a Living Will, this is the document that will instruct their physician whether they do or do not want to be kept alive in hopeless circumstances. (And, I’ll also point out, no matter how old you are, you should make your own wishes known for yourself through your own living will, as well.)
A living will (not to be confused with a general Will–see my Blog on the misconceptions, although they need a will too—see below) communicates whether your parents want aggressive end-of-life support in this type of situation if they are unable to communicate their desires.
Do note that they can always change their mind and redo this document if they later decide differently.
They Also Need a Healthcare Power of Attorney
Doctors typically turn to a spouse or other close relative to make important medical decisions should a person become incapacitated. Should the person have risky surgery? Go on powerful drugs?
Typically, the default medical decision-maker is the spouse. But say they don’t have a spouse. Or what if one of your parents is suffering from mild dementia. Perhaps that person is not suited to make these kinds of decisions for the other.
A healthcare power of attorney officially appoints a specific person chosen for that role.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney specifically names the person given authority to make these decisions. It should be someone who keeps cool under pressure, because many decisions are made during a health crisis.
What About the Emotional Aspects of Their Final Days?
My firm developed a free document, My Last Emotional Wishes, to help people indicate how they want their final months, weeks, and days to go from a physical and emotional standpoint. This is not a legal document, but one that helps people think about what’s important to them; it is also a great way to facilitate dialogue between loved ones if you fill it out together.
This free, 4-page document allows everyone—whether currently diagnosed with a life-limiting disease or simply planning for the distant future—to record their end-of-life emotional desires, taking the guesswork away from struggling family and friends. It was created in consultation with hospice professionals and other experts.
Topics include the people, items, music and/or prayers you’d want to be surrounded by in your final days; whether you’d want to be free of all pain near the end or prefer to tolerate discomfort if that means you can remain conscious; how you most want to be remembered; where you’d ideally like to be when you pass on; the mood you’d prefer at your funeral/memorial service; and more.
The four-page PDF form is easily downloadable from our firm’s website, GaryLandau.com (Scroll to the bottom of the page for the download).
Print it out and ask your parents to fill out the form and to store it alongside other important papers in their home. Because this is not a legal form, but rather a reflection of a person’s desires, there’s no need to have your signature witnessed or notarized.
Be Sure Their Will Is Up to Date
Many people draft their Will one time—perhaps when they had children or got divorced or remarried. Then they stash it away and forget about it. Your parents may have done the same
But a will is a crucial document, describing what heirs will get how much of the person’s assets (and who will be the guardian for the children if they are underage).
If your parents haven’t revisited their will in several years, encourage them to do so. And if they have no will at all, urge them to draft one with an experienced attorney. (I don’t recommend anyone create this document on their own; I see many mistakes in do-it-yourself wills that cannot be corrected after the person has died.)
You’ll especially want to encourage your parents to revamp their will if they have recently become a widow, gotten remarried, or altered their relationship with their personal representative or any of their heirs.
Ask your parents to tell you where their will is stored (not in a bank vault, which can be hard for others to access in a crisis). Too often after a death grown children cannot find it. Many attorneys also store original wills in a vault in their offices.
Consider a Durable Power of Attorney, Too
If you notice during the holidays that your parents are losing their ability to handle their financial affairs, they may need a Durable Power of Attorney. This document gives you or someone else the power to make financial decisions for them, from paying their bills to selling their home.
Before 2011, attorneys could create a power of attorney that was “springing”–that is, that could be used only if the person who signed it became incapacitated. Since then, however, powers of attorney are deemed to be in effect as soon as they are created, so they’ll want to carefully consider all the ramifications before deciding to create this document.
Have the Law Office of Gary M. Landau by your side. The Law Office of Gary Landau is located in Coral Springs, Florida, and is rated 10 out of 10 by the legal website AVVO. For more information or a free phone consultation, call 954-979-6566 or email us. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.
Law Office of Gary M. Landau P.A.
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Coral Springs, FL 33067
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