It’s That Call I’ve Been Dreading for Many Years

Waiting Room

I tried to call my 93 year old mother on Saturday. She didn’t answer. My mother, though a little frail, lives independently and is able to use a computer and an iPhone. With her restricted driver’s license, maybe she had gone out to run an errand. Two hours later, when I saw a missed call from both my brother and my mother, I knew that my mother had had some health issue.  Sure enough, she broke her hip.

In the rush of trying to figure out where to have the surgery, what kind of surgery she needed, and where she would go post-surgery, I thought about the Advanced Directives I forced her to complete almost exactly a year ago prior to a different surgery. My mother is one of those who has refused to deal with her end of life. For 20 years, she resisted every conversation about planning that I initiated. In her mind, such conversations acknowledged her advancing age. As I tried to explain, Advanced Medical Directives are a gift to your family members.

What are Advanced Directives?

Usually, these directives have three components: a living will, durable power of attorney and health care proxy.

  1. A living will specifies your wishes for medical treatment in the event that you have a non-curable terminal illness or condition. Think of it as guidelines for your agent to use when making decisions around your care, which can be general (do not use any measure to prolong suffering) or specific (no IVs, feeding tubes, CPR, breathing machines or antibiotics).
  2. A Durable Power of Attorney gives a designated individual legal authority over your affairs in the event of an incapacitating medical condition. A durable power of attorney gives an individual the power to make deposits and withdrawals and sign checks for assets that are not held in trust.  You can have a Durable Power of Attorney for legal affairs and a different one for medical decisions, much like a Health Care Proxy.
  3. The Health Care Proxy is a legal document which gives a designated individual the power to make health care decisions in the event that the patient is unable to communicate their own wishes.

In my mom’s case, she finally acquiesced to the preparation of Advanced Directives a year ago. However, she didn’t have them with her when she fell, they weren’t registered with the hospital to which she was taken and most important, were never communicated to every immediate family member. As luck would have it, the family who was there with her when her surgical consent form was signed had not been part of the living will conversation and knew nothing of her wishes. In the heat of the moment, my mother couldn’t remember what she wanted. I felt bad.

Discussions about end of life care, much like discussions about family finances, can be difficult to initiate, but that’s not an excuse for not having them at all.  Ask your advisor for help with a script for this conversation, suggested reading materials or an attorney to help prepare the documents.

Barbara Wolf

Barbara Wolf is a financial advisor with Abacus Wealth Partners.

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