Why We Need To Be More Open About End-of-Life Care

Both as a culture and in the healthcare industry, we need to be more open about end-of-life care and what it entails, so we can provide more comfort and care

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September 25, 2019
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Few of us enjoy thinking about our eventual demise, but death comes to us all. Far from being a taboo topic, end-of-life care belongs in every family discussion at some point. Making plans for your final years takes the burden off your family to decide things for you if you become incapacitated. It also allows them to honor your wishes.

Planning for end-of-life care liberates you because you know your legacy will remain secure. Here’s what to do and how to break the silence around a topic that need not remain taboo.

1. Know the Law in Your State

Different states have varying laws on the book regarding what happens during your final years and after your death. For example, if you die intestate — without a will — in a community property state, your estate, including your half of any marital property like your home, passes to your spouse. This means you need to write a will if you want your share of community property to move to another heir.

Some states, such as Oregon, allow for physician-assisted suicide if you’re diagnosed with a terminal disorder. Additionally, some states enable custodians to usurp your assets to pay for nursing home care if you lack sufficient funds to pay for your stay. Some states even allow court-appointed guardians to move you to a nursing home if your caregiver determines you can’t live independently and stay safe.

2. Decide What to Do With Your Remains

Do you want a traditional burial? Perhaps you have a family spot or a spouse you wish to be buried next to. Double-check with the facility to make sure your plot is secure.

Think outside the traditional burial plot and cremation. If you had a rare health condition, for example, donating your body to science helps researchers find a cure. As a bonus, many such programs will cremate you for free when they’re finished. If you’re concerned about the environment, you can have your ashes turned into fertile soil for a new tree to clean the air instead of opting for a mantlepiece urn.

3. Prepay Your Funeral

What do you want on your tombstone? If you want your photograph or a specific religious verse on your headstone, arrange this ahead of time.

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Do you have a particular funeral home or house of worship in mind for your memorial service? Investigate ahead of time costs for special services and, if possible, pay for these in advance to take the burden off your family members.

4. Put Your Financial Records in Order

When you pass on, you don’t want your family to have to dig through endless shoeboxes and filing cabinets to figure out your assets and debts. Organize your financial paperwork and keep copies of vital documents like mortgage deeds, car titles, and life or disability insurance paperwork in a safe deposit box. Entrust a family member as the beneficiary on the account so if the unexpected occurs, they know exactly where to turn to find the documentation they need.

5. Write a Legally Binding Will

You can buy will kits online and at office supply stores, but to create a legally binding will, you must ensure certain elements are met. You must provide evidence you have the legal capacity to enter into a contract. Don’t delay writing this vital document, especially if you have significant assets to transfer. Otherwise, envious family members could raise the question of capacity in probate court.

Additionally, you’ll need signatures from at least two witnesses, as well as your own. You can modify a will as long as you remain in a sound mind. You can add a codicil or change the entire document. It’s best to have a qualified estate attorney review your final will even if you prepare it yourself.

6. Obtain Long-Term Care Insurance Early

The best time to secure long-term care insurance is when you’re young and healthy. However, if you’re at an advanced age, seek employment that offers such coverage. This gives you much greater leeway in terms of choosing a care facility should you need to enter one in the future.

If you don’t have adequate long-term care insurance, you risk spending your final years in a facility that accepts Medicaid. Medicare will pay for certain care facilities immediately after hospitalization, but doesn’t include nursing home coverage currently. If you own assets, you’ll need to sell or transfer them before being approved for state Medicaid funds to help defray excess costs.

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7. Visit Potential Facilities Well in Advance

Moving to a nursing home proves stressful enough without a last-minute rush to find the right facility. If possible, visit potential retirement homes well in advance of reaching that age. This way, should illness or injury incapacitate you, your family knows which place you’ve chosen.

8. Appoint a Trusted Representative

You’ll need to select a family member you trust to manage your affairs both when you pass and if you become incapacitated. When you choose, approach the person and ask if they have the time and the desire to manage your final affairs. While you want to opt for someone you know will carry out your wishes, your goal in end-of-life planning is to avoid giving your family undue stress.

9. Initiate the Discussion

You’ll need to have a family meeting to discuss your wishes. This ensures everyone is on the same page and knows your desires. You need not make this a somber event. Invite everyone over for a nice meal or treat for a dinner out.

During the discussion, embrace transparency. Let other family members know who will administer your estate. Express your wishes in terms of your memorial service and funeral. Tell them about the nursing facility you’ve selected if you become unable to care for yourself.

Provide key members with copies of documentation so if something happens to the appointed designee, others can then pick up the slack. While unthinkable, if the plane crashes down when you’re on a group vacation, you’ll need someone who can carry out the final arrangements.

Planning for End-of-Life Care Liberates You and Your Family

Many people avoid talking about their end-of-life plans because they fear the inevitable. However, doing so relieves significant stress from your shoulders and those of your loved ones. By planning, you ensure your final wishes are met without burdening anyone with expenses.