Advance Directive: Ensure End-of-Life Wishes Honored


Paperwork including a living will and health care power of attorney can convey your treatment preferences if you are ever unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

By Mary Kane

As a nurse, Kim Von Asten of Dousman, Wis., knows it’s important to document how you want to be cared for at the end of your life, or when you can no longer speak for yourself because of a major illness or accident. She has seen too many families agonizing at a hospital bedside, trying to decide whether a loved one would want to be taken off life support.

But a few years ago, she realized she had multiple copies of her own advance directive “just laying around the house.” During routine visits, her doctor would ask if she had one. “I’d say ‘Well, they’re at home somewhere and I have no idea where I put them. Just give me another copy,’” says Von Asten, 52. “Then I’d fill out that copy, and who knows where I’d end up putting it. I finally thought to myself, if something ever did happen to me, I couldn’t find them, and my family would never be able to find them.”

Like Von Asten, you may think you’ve done your duty by filling out an advance directive listing your preferences for end-of-life care, such as whether you want aggressive treatment or just pain management, and naming a relative or family friend as a health care agent to express your wishes. But that may not be enough. You still need to make sure your paperwork will translate into reality. That means ensuring that your family fully understands your wishes, updating your directive regularly and making the document easily accessible to those who need it.

“People think that ‘Well, because my family knows what I want, I’m covered,’ ” says Judith Schwarz, clinical director of End of Life Choices New York, an advocacy and counseling agency. “But that’s often not the case at all.” If you haven’t created an advance directive or named a health care proxy, or your loved ones can’t find your directive in an emergency, you run a higher risk that your wishes won’t be honored. “Once you get caught up in the treatment train, it’s hard to get off,” Schwarz says. In an emergency room, she says, “the default position is to treat first and ask questions later.”

Sharing Your Wishes

If you don’t already have an advance directive, create one now—and share it widely. An advance directive, which usually refers to a living will and a health care power of attorney, should document your preferences for medical treatment in an accident or at the end of your life, plus name a health care agent to make decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. Find a form for your state in the advanced care planning section of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or at aarp.org/caregiving (type “advance directive forms” in the search field).

When you’ve completed your advance directive, make multiple copies, says Schwarz. Give them to family members and all the providers on your medical team. Keep your copies where they can be easily located. Paramedics often are trained to check a refrigerator door for a do-not-resuscitate order—so if you have one, tape it there. “Your documents are like nuggets of gold to caregivers left wondering, ‘How do I do this well?,’ ” says Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit that advocates for end-of-life planning. “You want to tell as many people as possible that you’ve made your decisions and where your records are kept.”

If you’re a caregiver for someone who is seriously ill or frail, ask a health care provider about a physician order for life sustaining treatment, or POLST, form, in addition to the directive. The POLST form is a medical order created with a health care provider so that medical personnel know someone’s wishes in an emergency situation. Your loved one can specify if he or she wants resuscitation or other life-sustaining treatment, hospitalization, comfort care or something in between. Search for state-specific information.

Make sure your loved ones are clear about your wishes and willing to carry them out. Start by holding a family conversation that includes as many people as possible, including adult grandchildren, says Marian Grant, a palliative care nurse practitioner and senior regulatory adviser with the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. State your preferences: Do you want to be kept alive on a ventilator? Are you willing to live in a nursing home?

Once you’ve shared your preferences, ask a trusted relative or friend to be your health care agent. Select someone who can handle the task, and discuss it in depth. “The appointment is only as good as the conversation,” Schwarz says. “What you want is someone who will assume the significant responsibility and decide as you would want, rather than as the daughter who doesn’t want her mom to die.”

Next, ensure your documents will be accessible when they’re needed. Despite technological advances, you can’t assume your paperwork will be recorded electronically with your medical records or shared with your doctors. Methods for storing directives vary by state and by hospital system. In many cases, you’ll need to physically present your paperwork. Keep a copy in your wallet or car, or download it on your phone.

You can store your directive electronically at the U.S. Living Will Registry or DocuBank and allow health care providers to access it. Or create and store an advance care plan using MyDirectives, a free online service. You can use it to notify your health care agent, and he or she can accept or decline the responsibility. You can also share a link to your plan with caregivers and relatives. Von Asten decided to use MyDirectives because she could better organize her documents and keep them in one place.

To be sure your wishes are honored, you or your health proxy also will need to be proactive, double-checking with surgeons, nurses and paramedics to be sure they have your directive or other documents in hand through every phase of your treatment. In one instance, a daughter discovered that her father’s advance directive failed to accompany him when he was moved to a different hospital floor, says Malley.

Update your directive regularly, and give a copy to all those who had the prior version. And follow the updating advice of Charles Sabatino, an elder law expert with the American Bar Association, by using the “five Ds”: a new decade of life, death of a family member, divorce, new diagnosis or a medical decline.

Complete Article HERE!


Can a Chatbot Help You Prepare For Death?


They’re being designed to tee up end-of-life conversations, prep documents and provide spiritual counseling

This chatbot is designed to make it easier for people to deal with preparing for death.

By Randy Rieland

Welcome to the conversation no one wants to have.

It’s the talk about death—specifically one’s own death and the difficult decisions surrounding it. There’s the matter of organ donation, albeit that’s one of the easier choices for most people. Beyond that are tough questions about the conditions under which you would want to be kept alive—or not. Or who would be the person to make those decisions if you’re incapable of doing so.

Ideally, this is a discussion had with a family member or close friend, and at a time free of stress or urgency. But that rarely happens. It’s not just because it’s such an unpleasant and personal subject. There’s also often concern about how the other person might respond. Maybe they won’t be very empathetic, or even worse, maybe they’ll be judgmental.

But what if, at least initially, you didn’t have to talk to another human about this?  What if your “end-of-life” conversation was with a machine?

That’s an idea that a team at Northeastern University in Boston is exploring.  They’ve begun a trial in which they’re introducing terminally ill patients to chatbots—computer programs able to converse with humans.

Lead researcher Timothy Bickmore thinks that not only is this a way to get people to address the subject sooner, but it also could help make their last days more bearable.

“Patients tend to be referred to palliative care much too late,” he says. “Something like a third of patients moved to a hospice die within a week.”

Instead, says Bickmore, people with a short life expectancy could use technology with artificial intelligence to help prepare themselves logistically, emotionally, even spiritually for their deaths.

To test that theory, the research team is providing 364 patients expected to live less than a year with tablets loaded with a specially-designed chatbot.  The idea is that at least once a day the person would check in with the program.

It’s not a digital assistant like Alexa or Siri; there’s not a verbal exchange. Instead, after a voice greeting, the chatbot provides a choice of responses on the touchscreen. The interaction is meant to be closely scripted to keep the conversation focused and avoid the communication breakdowns that can occur with even the most intelligent machines. Plus, that protects the patient from revealing too much personal information.

That said, chats can cover a lot of ground. The chatbot can see if the person wants to talk about their symptoms or what he or she is doing to stay physically active. But it presents the option to expand the conversation beyond the person’s physical condition, too, perhaps to discuss “end of life” planning.  The program doesn’t actually generate documents, but it does enable family members or caregivers to see when a patient is ready to talk about it.

Spiritual counseling
There’s also an opportunity to talk about spirituality. That may seem an odd topic to get into with a machine, but Bickmore notes that an earlier pilot study found that just wasn’t the case.

“We designed it to be like an initial conversation a hospital chaplain might have with a patient,” he explains. “We were concerned that we might offend people with a spiritual conversation. But they seemed perfectly comfortable. There were even a few people who said they preferred having this conversation with a non-emotional character, as opposed to divulging these feelings to a human stranger.

“That was a little bit surprising,” he adds. “We actually felt we could have pushed it a little further. We discussed if we should make it possible for the chatbot to pray with them. We didn’t go there, but I think we could have.”

If a person chooses to converse with the chatbot about religion, the discussion can evolve over time since the machine remembers previous responses on the subject. “The program is very adaptive,” Bickmore says. “For instance, if it determines that you’re a spiritual humanist or a Catholic, then all subsequent conversation is tailored around that belief system.”

Included in that counseling role with the latest version of the program is an invitation to learn about meditation—both as a spiritual experience and a potential way to reduce anxiety and pain. If the patient is interested, the chatbot becomes a virtual meditation guide, all to appropriate background music and calming images.

Conversation practice
Haje Jan Kamps has also embraced the idea of using a chatbot to encourage people to deal with the logistics of dying. His impetus, however, was more personal.

A few years ago, when he and his wife lived in the U.K., his mother-in-law suffered a serious stroke in the U.S. She survived, but Haje says that during her treatment and recovery, he spent a lot of time talking to doctors and nurses about how unprepared many Americans seemed to be when it came to the details of death.

“I’d ask them ’Why don’t people plan for this stuff,” he recalls. “And they would look at me and say, ‘Sure, it would be great if they did, but they just don’t.’”

Kamps saw both a great need and an opportunity. He worked with another entrepreneur, Colin Liotta, to create an end-of-life planning chatbot. They named it Emily.

Emily is designed to have two purposes. The first is to actually help people fill out the appropriate paperwork—a formal organ donation statement, a health proxy document naming the person who will make your medical decisions if you can’t, and an “advance healthcare directive” outlining the extent of medical treatment you want to receive if you’re incapacitated. The documents are customized for the state where you live, although the tool currently provides coverage for fewer than 20 states.

The second goal is to encourage people to have the end-of-life discussion with another person.

“The idea is to have this conversation with a robot first,” Kamps says. “You learn the vocabulary. You learn how to structure a conversation about the end of life. And that means that it can become relatively straightforward to have that conversation again with a loved one.” 

For now, Kamps and Liotta see the audience for Emily—currently a free service—as one that might seem counterintuitive. They’re promoting it to people between 25 and 45 years old, a group that wouldn’t appear to be much interested in spending time thinking about death.

But Kamps points out that many in this demographic already are comfortable communicating with chatbots. It’s also an age range, he says, when people start making big life decisions—starting a family, buying a house.

And, to his way of thinking, it only makes sense to start thinking about a will and end-of-life planning at the same time—with the understanding that a person will probably want to consider updating the documents every so often.

“To me, these are core decisions,” he says. “Why wait?”

Complete Article HERE!


Why you should make end-of-life care decisions now


By Kristen McConnell

Modern medicine has developed the God-like power to stabilize the vital signs that spiral out of control as a person approaches death, and to then keep that person alive despite their inability to breathe, eat or drink. It wields this power liberally.

But the American healthcare system never taught the public that preventing a natural death often results in a wholly unnatural life.

As an ICU nurse, I am haunted by memories of patients who were stabilized in intensive care so that their catastrophic injuries or diseases did not kill them, but who were left unable to communicate or do anything but receive medical care.

I think of a young woman whose family was so torn apart over whether to take her off life support after a hemorrhagic stroke left her comatose that by the time she died of a complication, weeks later, nobody came to be by her side.

When she was first admitted to the hospital, her family crowded her room. But when she didn’t get better, they drifted away. She stayed, her flesh peachy after weeks of tube feeding, though speckled with the tiny bruises of blood-thinning heparin shots.

She died of a perforated bowel leaking fecal matter into her abdomen and causing sepsis. Her family had declined emergency surgery over the telephone, giving permission for her to die. At the very end, there was only a nurse, dialing up morphine as the patient’s organs failed.

I can only imagine the immense suffering her family endured, and I know that every time they were asked for a decision regarding her care, they tried to make the right one.

But I wonder: If what was left of the girl in the hospital wasn’t enough to come say goodbye to, if she was too far gone to hold hands with as she drew her last breaths, why was she still there?

I also think of an elderly patient with a history of strokes and dementia who was brought to the emergency department after another large stroke. He was already completely immobile, dependent on care and unable to communicate. His breathing was inadequate and his heart went into a dangerous rhythm — dangerous if the goal is to stay alive. He was intubated and taken to the ICU.

The poor man was awake. He would occasionally squeeze a hand when asked to, but he never responded to questions. Because there was no fear of him pulling out his breathing tube, he was on minimal sedation, getting drugs only when he breathed rapidly or started “bugging out his eyes,” as one nurse put it. Aside from a list of diagnoses and meds, there was little information in his history, and no family contacts.

When asked directly by the ICU, the patient’s case manager and his general physician both refused to serve as his proxy and would not participate in a conversation about whether the patient would rather switch from life-sustaining measures to “comfort care,” which would have meant removing the plastic tube from his trachea and allowing him to die naturally, with supportive care and medicine to make him comfortable. So we kept him alive.

When I am face to face with a patient like this — someone who will never again be able to communicate, and who has been placed on the treadmill of continuous medical care — I feel the same type of shame as when I walk by a cold, crippled homeless person on the sidewalk. The wrongness is just as obvious.

When I stick a needle into his arm, or a catheter into his urethra, it feels as though I am kicking a homeless person. The incapacitated ill are profoundly disenfranchised, and the manipulation of their bodies is extraordinarily invasive and consequential.

It’s a moral crisis hiding in plain sight, yet the people involved claim to be mere cogs in the machine. When I asked an ICU attending physician why families aren’t given data and clear explanations of probable outcomes rather than best-case scenarios and “only time will tell” conversations, he said, “palliative care people can do that. In the ICU, we don’t really have time.” Another physician mentioned the “inertia of the system.”

It falls to the general public — the patients — to take the initiative in reforming the excesses of modern medical care.

You can determine your fate by completing an advance directive. This is a legal document in which you can explain what measures should be undertaken if you are unable to communicate; name a healthcare proxy who can communicate your wishes to medical providers; and lay out how you envision the end of your life.

Medicare began reimbursing physicians for advanced care planning in 2016. And many states have adopted POLST programs — Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment — in which medical orders can be written in advance. Still, two-thirds of Americans do not have any type of advance directive in place.

These documents are critically important. If you don’t want to be kept alive on life support, you can indicate as much in your advance directive. If you want the longest life possible no matter what, you can affirm this wish. Either way, families and care providers should know. It will help move our medical system toward a more humane approach to end-of-life care.

Complete Article HERE!


Straight From The Patient’s Mouth


Videos Can Clearly State Your End-Of-Life Wishes

For years, Wendy Forman, considered how to make her wishes known if she became horribly ill and couldn’t speak for herself.

She prepared a living will refusing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

She assembled orders instructing medical personnel to refrain from putting in a feeding tube or placing her on mechanical ventilation.

She told her husband and her daughters “no lifesaving measures” under any circumstances if she were unconscious and incapacitated.

“I was terrified of losing control,” this 70-year-old Philadelphia therapist said.

Then, earlier this year, Forman heard of a Pennsylvania physician who was helping people prepare “video advance directives” — videotaped statements expressing their preferences for end-of-life care.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, it’s like someone was reading my diary — this is exactly what I want,’” she recalled.

Only a few U.S. organizations offer people the chance to create video testimonials, which are meant to supplement and expand upon written living wills and Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST), now available in 26 states. Do-it-yourself videos are also a convenient option.

One organization doing pioneering work in this field is the Institute on HealthCare Directives, founded by Dr. Ferdinando Mirarchi, the Pennsylvania physician whose work Forman heard about. Others include MyDirectives, a Texas company that helps people create digital advance directives, including personal video and audio statements; Life Messages Media of Wisconsin, which also creates video memoirs and ethical wills, a way to share your values with your family; and In My Own Words, launched by a geriatric psychologist in California.

These organizations hope the videos will help physicians and families interpret and follow written advance directives. About one-third of adults have such end-of-life documents.

“It can give everyone confidence that Mom was competent and knew what she was signing and that no one tricked her by sticking a document in front of her and asking her to sign,” said Thaddeus Pope, director of the Health Law Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn.

Similarly, videos have the potential to ease some of the emotional angst that surrounds end-of-life decision-making. “A family gets to hear Mom saying, in her own words, what she wants, which can be profoundly reassuring,” said Dr. Monica Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Huntsville Hospital System in Alabama.

Formats vary. The Institute on Healthcare Directives’ videos are carefully scripted and usually last 45 to 90 seconds. The goal is to convey essential information to physicians making crucial decisions (perform manual chest compressions? insert a breathing tube?) in time-pressed emergency medical situations.

Mirarchi helps draft scripts after taking a careful medical history, explaining various types of medical situations that might arise, and discussing clients’ goals and values in considerable depth. The cost: a one-time fee of $350, which covers 10 years of follow-up consultations and maintenance, or a setup fee of $50 to $100 accompanied by an annual fee of $35 to $50.

After consulting with the doctor, Forman realized her “do nothing” instructions could prevent her from being treated for medical crises that she might recover from. Now, her video states that if someone witnesses her having heart attack and she can receive medical attention within 15 minutes, resuscitation should be tried.

“I came to see that in my zeal to have my wishes known and respected, I was going to an extreme that didn’t really make much sense,” she said.

Easy accessibility to the videos is essential but may not be practical, yet. The institute houses videos on a server; they can be called up on digital devices via QR codes, or hyperlinked bar codes, that are printed on cards given to clients. (Forman carries hers in her wallet, next to her insurance card.) Passwords are discouraged because these might be a barrier in an emergency. Still, medical personnel aren’t accustomed to searching for cards of this sort.

Videos by MyDirectives clients also tend to be short — between 15 seconds and a minute. The service is free to consumers; the company’s business model relies on partnerships with health care organizations. “The consumer deserves to have their voice heard in electronic health records” that these organizations maintain, said Jeff Zucker, MyDirectives chief executive officer, who hopes that health systems will eventually embed patient videos in those records.

What weight video testimonials will carry in legal conflicts has yet to be determined. Only Maryland allows advance directives to be conveyed in a video format, while New Jersey explicitly recognizes video or audiotapes as supplements to written documents, according to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging.

Multimedia advance directives likely will be taken into account in end-of-life disputes, just as a daughter’s statement that “Mom told me this is what she wanted last week” is given consideration, Pope said.

“Since the only thing that constitutes clear and convincing evidence under the law is the written advanced directive, make sure your video is consistent with what’s expressed in these documents,” he advised.

Physicians seem receptive to the videos. According to a study published this year, doctors were more likely to agree about recommended treatments for patients in difficult circumstances after viewing patient videos, as well as evaluating written advance directives.

“Doctors always question whether we’re doing the right thing when it’s just the paper document,” Mirarchi explained. “When you can see a patient expressing what their true intended wishes are, in their own voice, looking into a camera, that’s a very powerful tool.”

For their part, patients seem comfortable speaking before a camera, according to unpublished research conducted by Dr. Angelo Volandes, an internal medicine doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and a pioneer in creating videos that help patients understand the pros and cons of end-of-life interventions.

Complete Article HERE!


Don’t want ‘heroic measures’ as part of your end-of-life care? Have the conversation


intubated patient in hospital, intubatation at intensive care unit room respiratory machine with oxygen ventilation monitor

By Allison Bond

For one month this spring, my job as a senior resident in a large teaching hospital entailed racing around the hospital, managing patients who had rapidly become sicker; I wore running shoes every day. I also led every code, orchestrating a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and pharmacists in an effort to resuscitate patients after their hearts had stopped. Some of the very sick patients under my care had do-not-resuscitate orders, but most didn’t. For them, my team and I provided whatever treatments we could.

One night, a colleague asked me to see Mr. S, a middle-aged patient with worrisome vital signs.

Arriving at his bedside, my colleague, Dave, and I saw a sluggish, pale man — he’d been in the hospital for almost a month with life-threatening infections. He answered my questions with brief but cogent statements until he suddenly stopped moving, his eyes staring blankly at the wall. I felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one.

“Call a code blue,” I said as calmly as I could, referring to the all-hands-on-deck alert that a patient’s heart had stopped. Dave began doing chest compressions, pressing rhythmically and firmly on Mr. S’s chest, taking the place of the heart in circulating blood throughout his body. I stood at the foot of the bed as the resuscitation team rushed in. A breathing tube wouldn’t pass down Mr. S’s windpipe, so a surgeon performed a cricothyrotomy, cutting a hole in the throat so we could insert a tube to help him breathe. As we paused chest compressions to check for a pulse, 15 wide-eyed faces looked to me to tell them what to do next. Although most in attendance had been involved in attempts to resuscitate patients before, the adrenaline-fueled brutality universal to codes is nearly impossible to get used to. Mr. S’s heart still wasn’t pumping, so we continued.

A few moments later, his arms flailed, thanks to the blood the chest compressions were sending to his brain and the rest of his body. The intern who had taken over for Dave paused in alarm. Another resident reassured her this simply meant her compressions were strong, and urged her to continue pushing.

After more compressions and injections of medicines to bring up the blood pressure and restart the heart, Mr. S’s began to beat faintly. Stable for the moment, we moved him to the intensive care unit. His prognosis was grave, so his family opted against future resuscitations. Later that day, his heart stopped again — that time forever.

We may have revived Mr. S, at least for a few hours, but I’m not sure we really helped him. Were our actions what he truly wanted?

Most people whose hearts suddenly stop don’t survive. Of the more than 200,000 Americans every year who go into cardiac arrest in the hospital, only about one-quarter make it out of the hospital alive. Of those, nearly 30 percent are seriously disabled.

Doctors often don’t adequately convey these grim outcomes; many patients remain falsely optimistic, tending to overestimate their chances of surviving a cardiac arrest. And few people understand what the resuscitation process truly entails, and how these efforts often lead to a painful, undignified death. Recent research also shows that patients and caregivers tend not to be on the same page when it comes to what level of disability or pain might be acceptable to a patient in the future, including after a code.

There’s got to be a way to close these gaps.

The solution starts with a conversation between doctors and their patients about what the end of life might look like. In an effort to make these discussions more common, Medicare now allows doctors to count such discussions, known as advance care planning, as a topic worthy of a doctor’s visit — and of reimbursement under a new billing code — if patients are open to it. Since this change took effect Jan. 1, 2016, nearly 575,000 patients and 23,000 providers have participated in such reimbursed conversations. Of course, there’s plenty of room for improvement: Although that’s almost twice as many conversations as predicted by the American Medical Association, it’s only 1 percent of all people enrolled in Medicare.

It may seem ridiculous to need to pay doctors to have these conversations. Yet given the myriad demands on doctors’ time, making this conversation reimbursable puts it on equal footing with measuring blood pressure, discussing an irregular heartbeat, and other topics long considered vital parts of a doctor visit. These conversations aren’t simply something that are nice to do; they are an incredibly important part of the way patients live and die.

Yet this initiative faces opposition by lawmakers whose fundamental misunderstanding of advance care planning risks seriously harming patients. One such example is the dangerously misnamed Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act, proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) this past January. The bill calls for excluding end-of-life discussions from Medicare reimbursement, discouraging doctors from having these important conversations. That’s a problem because in the American medical system, the default position is to do everything possible to revive a patient unless he or she requests otherwise. And in reality, there’s nothing natural about a death prolonged by painful chest compressions, endless needle sticks, and a breathing tube forced down the throat, especially when such efforts are usually futile. In fact, some experts have proposed changing the term “do not resuscitate” to “allow natural death” to better reflect the realities of end-of-life care.

There’s no doubt heroic measures save some lives — but they aren’t what everyone wants. That’s why end-of-life discussions are essential for protecting patients and empowering them to make clear, well-informed decisions that let doctors do right by them. It’s absolutely vital that we keep these conversations going.

Complete Article HERE!


A Checklist Before Dying



In early 2015, my mom was in a car wreck. She sustained extensive injuries and died two weeks later. I was 35 at the time, surrounded by chaos, and had no idea what I was doing.

You hate to look on the bright side of life-altering tragedy, but I’m still so grateful to my mom for having her affairs in order. Because her accident was so sudden, it took a few days to locate her end-of-life documents. Once we did, it felt like there was a shift in my brain chemistry. We now had guidelines to help us respond to this terrible, traumatic event.

A lot of people believe it’s too difficult or macabre to think about, much less plan for, your own death. But confusion, exhaustion, and terror are the norm in the wake of enormous loss. Planning ahead helps reduce your family’s stress when they’re already in their own personal hell.

If you have a contentious relationship with your family of origin, it’s extra important for you to draw up wills and other relevant legal documents. If something terrible were to happen to you, somebody you don’t like or respect but happen to share blood with may have more say than the people who are actually important to you. Paperwork can help prevent that.

Here is an overview of how to prepare for the (inevitable) worst:

Your Last Will and Testament

Most of us learn about wills from television, though I’m not sure there’s actually ever been a dramatic scene immediately after a funeral where a lawyer sits down with a bunch of people and parcels out the deceased’s belongings.

A will serves two functions:

  1. To appoint an executor of the estate
  2. To express the deceased’s wishes about distribution of assets

It doesn’t matter how much or how little a person had in this world. When they die, their assets and debts become the property of “the Estate of [Deceased Person].” An executor of an estate is the person put in charge of making sure the estate is handled properly—which does sometimes come down to parceling out the deceased’s belongings.

You should know that, even if you say “please leave all my money to these people or this organization,” if you die with a bunch of debt, it’s likely the debt will have priority over your wishes.

A durable power of attorney

This document outlines how incapacitated you have to be to let some (specific) person handle your money. Even if you don’t want anyone else to touch your money, consider the logistics; setting up a power of attorney lets someone else sign checks to pay your light bill or rent, for example, without technically committing fraud. (We always forget about the little stuff.)

You have to specifically appoint a person for this role. Once you die this document ceases to be of any value and the executor of your estate takes over.

Your medical directives

This document lays out the manner in which you wish to live vs. do not wish to live. These documents vary massively by state. In general, states with Right to Die laws will have more much more detailed requirements. If you draft a medical directive in one state and then wind up becoming grievously ill or injured in another state, they should still honor the spirit (if not the letter) of this document.

I did mine in Oregon. It’s a three-page list of yes/no scenarios. You have to consider your own mortality, but other than that, it’s really not that daunting. All you have to do is express what you’d like to happen to you, should the worst happen.

You have to specifically appoint a person to execute your medical directives as well. A doctor will not look at this document and enforce it based on their own judgments about your condition. So make sure the person you appoint to do this is someone who understands your wishes and respects your values, because this document will empower them to either enforce or override your choices.

An estate attorney

A will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical directive should all be drawn up with a lawyer. The people that specialize in this area of the law are called estate attorneys. The estate attorney should be able to tell you upfront how much it will cost to draw these documents up and a lot of times you can work out a payment plan with them.

This attorney will keep a copy of each of these documents in their files. You should also keep copies in a safe place that other people know about and can access should you be in a medical crisis and unable to communicate. It may also be wise to give copies to the people who have appointed roles in your end-of-life documents.

Life insurance

You should have life insurance if you have any outstanding debts or dependents. My understanding is that your life insurance should equal your debt + five years of your salary + your child’s/children’s estimated college tuition, but do your own research on what’s best for you—and do some research on which of your debts are forgiven in death and which are not.

If you have no major debt and no dependents, you could skip the life insurance part, but keep in mind that life insurance beneficiaries can also be parents or other relatives, all of whom could probably use the money—especially if they are anticipating support in their retirement years and/or paying for the cost of your funeral.

Love letters

Any final lovely words you want to write to the wonderful people in your life? Better yet, any petty stuff you want to make sure you get the legit last word on? Write it in a letter, seal it in an envelope and keep with the other documents.

Lists of accounts, important contacts, assets and debts

Accounts: A list of all your credit cards, checking and savings accounts, including where they’re held and branch information if necessary.

Important contact info: The attorney who helped draft your legal documents, your doctor, your health insurance, your pet’s veterinarian, etc. If someone had to suddenly take over your whole life, what do they need to know?

Assets: Retirement accounts, a 401(k) program at your work, any property you might own (with the mortgage holder listed), savings bonds, certificates of deposit, etc. You can leave out the account numbers if you have privacy concerns; what you’re really doing is making a road map for whoever will be handling your affairs.

Debts and bills: Student loans, credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, etc. Don’t forget your rent, utilities, subscriptions, child support, memberships, and donations that auto-renew. List every single thing that bills out of your account monthly, quarterly, annually.

Update this information every time you change your clocks and put the revision date at the top. (Also, change your smoke alarm batteries while you’re at it.)

Funeral preparations and preferences

You can get as specific as you want with this, but at the bare minimum let people know if you want a burial or cremation and where you want your remains to go. (Especially if you come from a large family or if there are any religious or cultural differences to consider.)

Obituary draft

Obituaries have to be filed for a few reasons. Many states have public disclosure laws for debt collection that require an obituary. Also, people might want to come to your funeral (or at least know you died) who aren’t in your immediate social and family circles. Draft a super basic obituary that includes where you were born along with the names of your parents, siblings, children, etc. A few broad strokes about your life, where you went to school, worked, what you enjoyed doing, etc.

It’s going to be painful for your loved ones to write about you in the past tense, so giving them a rough draft can be very helpful—especially because the obituary usually has to be written immediately  after a person’s death.

Make sure people know where this stuff is!

Keep it somewhere secure. But let the right people know how to access it. A fireproof safe in your house? Make sure someone knows where the keys are. A safe deposit box? Make sure someone else has access to it. In a folder on your laptop labeled “Death Prep?” You’d better give someone else the password and the file path. Under the floorboards? Whatever, just make sure people can find it and have access to it if you are suddenly incapacitated.

Final note

The less mess you leave for someone to clean up, the less you’ll complicate the grief for people who love you. All the secrets you have stashed around your life? Someone has to clean that up. Know that the dead have zero privacy; all of your porn, medical history and drug habits will be 100 percent somebody else’s business now. Appoint an executor who has some chill, and good luck in the next plane of existence.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, nor a financial advisor. I’m terrible at math and I hate dealing with people. This is not professional advice and you should definitely pay an actual grown-up $200/hour to explain how the basic tenets of our society functions because your pain, fear and confusion is the grease that keeps the ruthless machine of capitalism churning. Above all, do not sue me if you mess up your own life!

Complete Article HERE!


New study looks at end-of-life decision making for people with intellectual disabilities


by Bert Gambini

A new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo provides a groundbreaking look at how advance care planning medical orders inform emergency medical service (EMS) providers’ experiences involving people with intellectual disabilities.

Most states in the U.S. have programs that allow to document their end-of-life decisions. In New York, the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form (MOLST) allows individuals to document what measures , including EMS providers, should take near the end of a patient’s life.

Studies suggest that this approach to person-centered advance care planning can alleviate a dying patient’s pain and suffering, according Deborah Waldrop, a professor in the UB School of Social Work and an expert on end-of-life care. Yet little research on end-of-life decision-making has been done on the growing population of older Americans with intellectual disabilities, which the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines as a disability characterized by significant limitations in learning, reasoning, problem solving, and a collection of conceptual, social and practical skills.

Waldrop and Brian Clemency an associate professor of emergency medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, authored one of the first scholarly examinations of how pre-hospital providers assess and manage emergency calls for patients who do not wish to be resuscitated or intubated. Jacqueline McGinley, a doctoral candidate in UB’s School of Social Work, joined their research team and served as first author for their most recent work.

Through a series of interviews with five different agencies in upstate New York, the researchers asked EMS providers specifically how forms like the MOLST shape what they do in the case of someone with an intellectual disability.

“The best available research before our study suggested that as of the late 1990s, fewer than 1 percent of people with intellectual disabilities had ever documented or discussed their end-of-life wishes,” says McGinley. “But with this study, we found that about 62 percent of the EMS providers we surveyed had treated someone with an intellectual or developmental disability who had these forms.”

That disparity points to the need to illuminate this understudied area of how people with intellectual disabilities are engaging in end-of-life discussions, according to McGinley.

She says the EMS providers’ charge is to follow protocol by honoring the documents, their directions and organizational procedures. The MOLST, as its name implies, is a medical order that providers are professionally bound to respect. Their procedures are identical for all emergency calls involving someone who is imminently dying regardless of a pre-existing disability, the study’s results suggested.

But questions remained.

“We heard from providers who wrestled with the unique issues that impact this population, including organizational barriers when working across systems of care and decision-making for individuals who may lack capacity” says McGinley.

There are approximately 650,000 adults age 60 and older in the U.S. with intellectual disabilities, according to Census Bureau figures from 2000. Demographers expect that figure to double by 2030, and triple within the foreseeable future.

Person-centered advance care planning specifically involves the individual in discussions about their health history, possible changes to their current health status and what future options might be available in order to best inform that person’s end-of-life decision-making.

The results, published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, suggest that medical orders largely favor efforts to prolong life. This may be due to a reluctance to discuss advanced care planning in this population. Still, this sociocultural context must be strongly considered as future research explores how people with intellectual engage in end-of-life discussions.

Since January 2016, Medicare pays for patients to have conversations with medical providers. In fact, at least once a year, as part of a service plan through the state, people with have face-to-face discussions with their service providers, according to McGinley, who notes the importance of this built-in opportunity to have conversations about serious illness and the end of life.

“What’s most important in all of the work we do is knowing that people can die badly,” says Waldrop. “We know we can make changes that illuminate some of the uncertainties and improve care for people who are dying. Knowing how forms, like the MOLST, are applied in the field is an incredible step in the right direction.”

Complete Article HERE!