Starting a Dialogue

One of the best gifts you can give your family is the gift of knowledge surrounding how you would want to be cared for in the event of a debilitating or terminal illness. But let's face it, no one is in a rush to have this conversation.

But, bear with us, we know this isn't a lively topic and it's also one that many Americans actively avoid talking about, but it is important. Making positive and empowering choices when it comes to a serious medical event or the end of your life can impact your family during one of the most complex and tragic times they will face. Unfortunately, many Americans don't talk to their families about their wishes until it's too late which may result in extreme emotional strain on the family.

Maybe you're reticent to even think about the end of your life or how you would express your feelings to your family. Or maybe you've tried to speak with your loved ones but they won't hear you on this specific topic. Whatever the reason for this specific communication breakdown, it is important to break through and have a meaningful conversation. Your loved ones may be uncomfortable but in the event of a catastrophe or a serious illness, they will be grateful you expressed your wishes.

Making plans for your long-term healthcare begins with answering some key questions for yourself. The answers to these questions can provide both clarity and comfort for both you and your family in the event of a medical emergency.

Do you want to be an organ donor?
Most states offer the option to register as an organ donor when you receive or renew your driver's license. If you haven't made this decision and feel strongly either way, make sure you tell your loved ones what your wishes would be.

Would you prefer in-home care vs a skilled care facility?
If given the choice of staying in your home or going to a skilled care facility, I think we would all want to remain at home. Given the circumstances, this may or may not be practical for physical or financial reasons. Whether you're willing to move to a new place or think you'd feel more comfortable at home, it's important to let your family know so they can provide you with the living situation that makes you feel most comfortable.

What if I am on life support?
In the event of a serious illness or accident, what steps would you like doctors to take to extend your life? Consider whether you'd like to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order, which would instruct doctors as to how to proceed in an emergency. Alternatively, consider whether you would want to be placed on a ventilator, have a feeding tube inserted, or have doctors attempt other measures to extend your life. Share this information with your loved ones so that they can make good choices on your behalf if you're not able to do so.

Will you differentiate your care based on your mental capacity?
A diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia can be devastating for both patients and caregivers. Preparing for a time when you might not have the mental capacity to make decisions for yourself is a scary thought, but it's also very important. Consider how you envision your future and if a diagnosis that impacted your mental capacity would impact some of the decisions you would make for yourself and share your feelings with your loved ones.

How do I want end-of-life decisions to be made?
Do you have a very specific vision about certain aspects of your long-term care, treatment for illness, and eventual death? If so, it's important to not only make your family aware of your wishes, but to also designate responsible parties who can act on your behalf. Whether you'd like to have a specific person handle your medical or financial decisions, make sure you identify the people who you'd like to have help you and that the person knows that you have chosen them for this role. Tell them what you want and make sure they know where any relevant documents are located so they can help if you're incapacitated.

Once you have answered these questions for yourself, it is important to communicate your desires and wishes to your family. This is best accomplished via a conversation that is followed up with written Advance Healthcare Directives relative to the laws of your state. AHCs include a living will (providing written instructions on the degree of life-sustaining measures that should be taken), a healthcare power of attorney (which provides a third party the authority to make health-related decisions in the event you cannot), and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) release (a document that releases medical records to an authorized third party).

Discussing important end-of-life issues can help lift the burden of decision-making both for patients and caregivers. If you haven't done so already, think about the answers to these questions and speak to your loved ones about your wishes for your future; doing so can help alleviate future stress. Once you've spoken with your loved ones, it's important to make sure that you have a financial plan that can help your family lighten both the financial and emotional strain in the event of a tragedy. A Jemma Financial Advisor can work with your family to develop a plan that's right for you. The peace of mind for you and your family will be well worth the time spent!