End of life planning can seem like a morbid topic; no one likes to think of the illness or injury they may face in their final years. However, not being prepared can mean that decisions are made against your wishes, or the pressure is put on your loved ones to try and guess what you may have wanted. In this article, we will explain life planning and what you need to prepare for.
What Is End of Life Planning?
End of life planning is planning for the final years of your life. Most people get so caught up planning for what happens after their death that they forget to make arrangements for the ten years or so before they die. End of life planning includes plans for things like:
- Plans for common age-related illnesses like heart attacks, stroke, and dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Plans for debilitation or mobility issues
- Power of attorney plans
- Living will/Advance Decision and living trust
- Organ donation plans
- Level of medical intervention and life-saving measures
- Living arrangements and assisted living facilities
The purpose of end of life planning is to express your wishes in case certain circumstances occur. They will help your family know what to do in those scenarios and, in some cases, may even provide the funds for the arrangements.
Questions to Ask Yourself While End of Life Planning
The first step of end of life planning is to sit down and think about what your wishes are. It is best to think independently about this before you begin discussing it with your partner, children, or other loved ones. This way, you can get a clear picture of your thoughts without the influence of other people.
Start off asking yourself about your values and what you want your quality of life to be. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What level of care would I like if I need assistance?
- Do I want extraordinary measures taken to keep me alive if my quality of life has deteriorated?
- Do I have any strong beliefs about mortality?
- How do I feel about quality of life vs mortality? Would I have a risky operation if it would improve my quality of life, or would I prefer not to take that chance?
Write down your thoughts as you go so you can refer back to them. End of life planning can be overwhelming, so you may find it easier to do it in small doses if you become emotional.
Once you have worked out your general values and thoughts, it is time to make decisions about what your wishes are for specific situations. You should make a best-case scenario decision and a worst-case scenario decision. This will give your family guidance to deal with any grey areas that may occur. Consider the following scenarios in your end of life planning:
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Terminal illness or serious illness with a low survival rate
- Heart problems
- Mobility issues
- Paraplegia/Quadriplegia/Becoming bed-bound
- The circumstances where you would like to be resuscitated and the circumstances where you do not want to be resuscitated
You may want to seek advice from an attorney or a GP at this stage to help discuss what other things you need to plan for. Your GP can help explain the best case and worst-case scenarios of each condition so you can make an informed plan.
How to Have Conversations About End of Life Planning
These can be tough conversations to have with loved ones. No one likes to imagine their loved ones not being around, but it is necessary to express your wishes.
First, have a conversation with your partner, and discuss what your thoughts are and some of the things you have planned for. If they are doing their end of life planning, you can discuss both of your decisions at the same time. Be prepared, you may have different views on things. The most important thing is that you respect each other’s wishes. Your partner may also remind you of things you may have forgotten.
Next, have a conversation with your immediate family. This may include adult kids, parents, or close siblings. Depending on your family dynamics and how close you are to family (in terms of relationship and geographic distance), you may have this conversation with a handful of close friends.
When having these conversations, remember that it is an emotional topic, and while you have had time to think about it and process it, your loved ones have not. If you are already ageing or have recently been diagnosed with a health condition, then it will be even harder because these decisions will hit closer to home. Have this discussion in a private place like your home where your loved ones can express their emotions without public attention. Be understanding and acknowledge that it is a hard conversation, and the things you are asking for may be difficult. Acknowledge that your opinions may differ. Your adult children may be adamant that they want you to move you into their home and care for you if you need, but your wishes are to move into an assisted living facility. Emphasise that you want the specialist care that it will provide and the on-site medical assistance.
Most of all, give your loved ones time to process all the information. Their initial reaction will be an emotional one but given time to consider your wishes; they will come around. Before appointing power of attorneys, discuss the matter with your family to ensure they are willing and that they respect your wishes. You may decide to appoint co-powers of attorney, especially for medical decisions, to ensure the pressure is not on one person. Alternatively, you can appoint your lawyer as your power of attorney with strict directions for any circumstance that may arise. This is usually only reserved for situations where you have no loved ones, you cannot trust your loved ones to follow your wishes, or your loved ones do not want the pressure.
How to Make End of Life Planning Legally Binding
A specific and detailed living will/Advance Decision, and living trust will make sure your end of life planning is legally binding. It can spell out any religious beliefs you have in relation to your medical care and state what types of medical care you refuse in certain situations. For example, you can refuse life-saving measures like resuscitation in the event of a stroke or heart attack. Your attorney can help you create this document and set up a living trust to help pay for care and medical aids when you need them. The trust sets stipulations for how the money can be used, such as paying for fees at the assisted living facility or paying for a home nurse to visit a few times a week.
If you suffer from a terminal illness, then you can also create a plan with your healthcare team. This is not legally binding, and your family, especially your power of attorney, can override their recommendations and the plan you gave. However, your team will have information about your wishes and try to comply as much as they are able.