Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good resources that can help seniors create a living will?
Creating a living will is one of those things most people plan to do, but rarely get around to actually doing. Less than 30 percent of Americans currently have one. But preparing one now gives you say in how you want to be treated at the end of your life, not to mention it can spare your loved ones some very stressful medical care decisions at an emotional time. Here's what you should know along with some resources to help you create one.
To adequately spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment you need two legal documents: A "living will" which tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a "health care power of attorney" (or health care proxy), which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to.
These two documents are known as an "advance directive," and will only be utilized if you are too ill to make medical decisions yourself. You can also change or update it whenever you please.
You may also want to consider including a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) as part of your advance directive, since advanced directives do little to protect you from unwanted emergency care like CPR. Doctors and hospitals in all states accept DNR orders.
One other tool you should know about that will compliment your advance directive is the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). Currently endorsed in 16 states with dozens more in some phase of development, a POLST translates your end-of-life wishes into medical orders to be honored by your doctors. To learn more or set one up, see polst.org.
There are several free or low-cost resources available today to help you write your advance directive, and it takes only a few minutes from start to finish.
One that's completely free to use is Caring Connections, a resource created by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. They provide state-specific advance directive forms with instructions on their website (caringinfo.org) that you can download and print for free. Or you can call 800-658-8898 and they will mail them to you and answer any questions you may have.
You may also be able to get free advance directive forms from your doctor's office, hospital or local health department.
Or, for only $5, an even better tool is the Five Wishes living will. Created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit advocacy organization, Five Wishes is a simple do-it-yourself document that covers all facets of an advance directive that will help you create a more detailed customized document. Legally valid in 42 states, to learn more or to receive a copy, visit agingwithdignity.org or call 888-594-7437. Five Wishes can also be completed online for free for a limited time at fivewishes.org.
Get Legal Help
If, however, you decide you would rather use a lawyer to draft your advance directive, look for one who specializes in estate planning and health care related matters. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils websites are good resources that have directories to help you find someone in your area.
Costs will vary depending on which state you reside in, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $500 to get one made.
Tell Your Family
To insure your final wishes are followed, it's very important that you tell your family members, health care proxy and doctor so they all know what you want. You should also provide copies of your advanced directive to everyone involved to help prevent stress and arguments later.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.