Most people have a disconnect between thinking about their later years and actually taking action, especially when it comes to estate planning and health care directives. Maybe it's a fear of mortality and maybe it's uncertainty about medical treatments. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that most Americans don't have a defined plan to get them through their end of life years.
It's reported that fewer than half of Americans have a will. Even fewer have plans for their late years when health declines. According to a new study, only 37 percent of the total population has a plan for their late-life health care decisions.
The two main ways to plan for your health care are living wills and health care directives.
What is a living will?
In its simplest definition, a living will is a document that defines your preference for medical treatments, such as life support, feeding tubes and more. It's a way to record your personal views in case you're unable to communicate them yourself--for example, if you are unconscious following a serious car accident and there needs to be an emergency operation.
What is a health care directive?
Sometimes called proxies, directives grant decision-making to another individual. This is usually a trusted friend or family member who will act on your behalf if you're incapacitated. Another common term for this role is a health care power of attorney. While your close associates know you well, it's advised to have intimate conversations about your preferred treatments so your proxy knows your wishes.
Why do so few use these options?
According to the study, more than six of every ten people don't have a health care plan in case of a medical emergency or a general decline with age. There are different theories. One idea is that people are simply uncomfortable discussing their own death in such terms. Another idea is more complicated.
Human health is complex and treatments are ever changing. Committing to a plan in a living will may feel constrictive. Treatments and technology are continually advancing. There are also endless possibilities for health issues, and many fear overlooking the wrong scenario, essentially giving the wrong directive. Living wills establish a plan of action. Sometimes plans change. The right living will prepares for this.
Making a plan that works for you
The inescapable truth is that everybody experiences health issues as they age. Because you may not always be responsive enough to make your preferences known in real time, you need advance directives and people you can trust to help you through serious situations.
It's natural to have concerns about a living will or health care powers of attorney. However, an experienced attorney can guide you through the legal process while advising how to address your concerns. While a living will is a binding document, you can amend it to match evolving philosophies. By establishing an end-of-life care plan, you'll communicate your intent clearly at a time when it's needed the most.