April 16th is National Healthcare Decision Day.
For the past two weeks, we've discussed Healthcare Powers of Attorney, their importance and the family benefits they and other similar documents provide. This blog discusses a few practical matters.
Do Something - Now
Estate planning is one task that is very easy to avoid. There is always something else that is more
My wife and I went to a respected local attorney who specializes in estate planning. He looked at what we had done and though we had put all of our assets in joint tenancy with right of survivor-ship, that was less than half of what we needed to do It seems that if my wife and I died in a common accident, mostly everything would be distributed through the wills, which must be probated to let the kids sell the house and distribute other assets.
And then we needed the Healthcare Powers of Attorney, trusts and letters of instruction. It seems that some of the estate planning advice we saw on TV by "experts" was utterly wrong for our situation. Our attorney patiently explained what we needed to do and why. We went through the documents and he explained everything. It took a few weeks and cost about $1,500.
It Feels Good
It's hard to explain the feeling of satisfaction we felt after getting all this done. A weight was lifted off of our shoulders. It was a weight that we carried around for so long that we were not even aware of it until it was gone. Just knowing we could go on long road trips together without that little nagging feeling gave us the freedom to enjoy our trips much more.
Though my wife and I opted to have a more extensive plan done, not everyone can afford $1,500. But just because you can't do it all doesn't mean you should do nothing. Do what you can. You can execute your own Healthcare Power of Attorney following your state's instructions and forms. You can write a letter about your possessions and what you want each child to have. You can execute a Do Not Resuscitate Order if that is what you want to do. Something is better than nothing.
Failure To Communicate
When I was putting together our Emergency Medical Data product, SafelyMD, I had a chance to talk to the local emergency medical technicians about their experiences. They told me about a sad scenario that happens time and time again.
911 dispatches them to a home in the middle of the night. They arrive to find an elderly man, not responsive. His wife is there, crying. Often, an adult child is also present. As they begin to resuscitate, the wife will tearfully say that her husband does not want to be revived, and she wants them to follow his wishes. However, by orders from their department, they are required to ask for and see a copy of the document that states that. Otherwise, they have to start life-saving procedures.
Nobody knows where that document is and the paramedics can't wait while a search goes on. So they resuscitate, only to have the man die in the hospital two weeks later after incurring medical bills that the family will now struggle to pay.
The Last Piece Of The Puzzle
Your first step is deciding what you want to do. Your second step is executing the necessary documents. The final step is making sure those documents are available when you need them and can be found even if you are unconscious.
You can't rely on luck, expecting the documents to magically appear when you need them. Some action must be taken to have them available. There are high tech and low tech ways to do that.
For low tech, you can put a very prominent note on your refrigerator, telling anyone who sees it where the documents are located. Be very specific. Seconds are important. And don't say they are in a safe deposit box at the bank. What good are they if you have to wait for the bank to open and have someone with your key authorized to access your box? Make sure they are in your house, exactly where you said they would be. And don't expect the paramedics to understand something like, "in the second drawer of Bobby's old dresser." It may make sense to you, but not to a stranger.
If you travel, take the documents with you and make sure your children, if you have any, have copies and can fax them at a moment's notice. You can even have the documents on file at your local
hospital. But we know of situations where the hospital couldn't find them.
For high tech solutions, you can put them on your smart phone, but even then you'll need your phone
But no matter what you do or how you do it, don't forget this last piece of the puzzle. Because without it, all the decisions, all the planning and all the hopes are for nothing.
April 16th is National Healthcare Decision Day. Perhaps April 17th should be National Document and Communicate Your Healthcare Decision Day.