It’s smart to make end-of-life plans now
The coronavirus pandemic has more people addressing their end-of-life planning. For those who haven’t done so yet, it’s a great time to take it on.
People are traditionally rather hesitant to take the steps that experts suggest — creating an advance directive, writing a will and more — in part because they don’t want to ponder their own mortality.
But the pandemic has sharpened awareness and focused concern on this front.
Consider the advice of Jenni Neahring, a kidney specialist and palliative care doctor, who works daily with patients with chronic and serious illnesses. She said it’s better to make these decisions before an emergency in order to avoid putting extra stress and urgency on loved ones if something should happen.
If a patient is unconscious, healthcare professionals must spend critical time hunting down relatives or friends to help determine their preferred next steps.
Things have gotten harder with COVID-19, Neahring said, as no one is allowed to enter hospitals with these patients, and those on ventilators cannot speak for themselves.
“It has brought into sharp relief how necessary these conversations are, and how much worse it is to have to do them at the end,” she said.
Here are a few things you can do now to help you and your loved ones later:
Choose your point people
Who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself? This person is known as your healthcare proxy. They will be named in a legal document known as the durable power of attorney for healthcare.
Then choose someone who can oversee your financial affairs, such as paying your mortgage or other bills, if you are incapacitated. This person would be given financial power of attorney. It doesn’t have to be the same person as your healthcare proxy.
Choose someone you know well and trust for these roles. Pick a backup as well, in case your first choice is unavailable.
Write it down
After you’ve addressed the healthcare and financial representatives, consider writing a living will, or “advance directive.” An advance directive says exactly what medical care you do and do not want. Each state has its own advance directive form. They can be found at the Medicare.gov website.
If you are having trouble getting started, check out online resources such as the Conversation Project, Prepare for Your Care or AARP’s website.
Consider writing a will to let people know what to do with your assets after you die. Without a will, your estate could end up in probate, potentially causing more headaches and costs for those you leave behind.
Many people look at end-of-life planning, including wills, estates and trusts, as an issue for the wealthy, but that’s untrue, said Chas Rampenthal, general counsel at LegalZoom.
“It’s not about how much you have; it’s about making your wishes known,” he said.
And while life insurance isn’t always considered part of end-of-life planning, it can be an important step to protect your family financially. Term life insurance, a policy in place for a limited period of time, works best for most families, versus whole life, which is much more expensive and complex (but also has long-term value).
Consider a lawyer
It’s not a great time to meet with people in person. But estate attorney Matthew D’Emilio said that most lawyers are able to arrange phone, video or other consultations during the pandemic. Many states have provided alternatives for witnessing and signing documents to cope with the social distancing rules.
If the idea or cost of seeing an attorney is too daunting, there are many online options for legal documents, some of which provide direct consultation.
Share your wishes
Let your friends and family know what you want, who is in charge and what documents you have. Provide a copy of critical paperwork to your loved ones. Share your advance directive with your physician as well.
Neahring recommends keeping the name and number of your medical decision maker in your wallet for emergencies.
And while most details will be addressed in the legal documents, some experts suggest writing a short letter reiterating your preferences and reasoning to help provide clarity and comfort to your loved ones later on.