So I'm driving into the office this morning listening to National Public Radio.
I'm only half listening to the radio as I distracted by the snow covering the ground in mid-April. That's when I heard the person being interviewed mention advanced directives. That got my attention. It's kind of rare to hear people actually discussing estate planning on the radio. It turns out that April 16 was National Healthcare Decisions Day. Who knew?
Anyway, the person being interviewed was involved with Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. I'm not sure if he was an attorney, but he sounded like he could have been. He had a lot of advice for listeners, some of which I've been telling my clients for years.
What got my attention was a statement he made about La Crosse, Wisc. Apparently, 96 percent of people who die in La Crosse have an advanced directive. To put that number in perspective, the national average of folks that have an advanced directive is about 30 percent. That's a pretty significant difference.
Now some of you may be asking, "What the heck is an advance directive anyway?"
An advanced directive is essentially written instructions relating to health care at the end of life. In other words, when things are winding down, what medical care do you want to be provided?
The most common advanced directive, and the one that most of us think of regarding end-of-life decisions, is the living will. In the event that you are terminally ill, death will occur within a short period of time and providing you with medical care will only prolong the dying process, you can elect not to receive the medical care.
The rejection of medical care doesn't apply to those things that will keep you comfortable during the dying process but rather extraordinary things that will only serve to force your body to stay alive.
The flip side of the living will is the life prolonging procedure declaration. This declaration makes it clear that you want all medical care available to delay death.
Some people think it's a good idea to put in health care representative appointments and powers of attorney that include healthcare powers in the advanced directive category, but I'm not sure that I do. I think of an advanced directive as applying at the end of life whereas as health care representative can make medical decisions that have nothing to do with the end of life.
Too many people only think of wills and thrills when they think about estate planning. Health care decisions should be given at least as much thought as deciding who is going to get your stuff. If it takes a National Healthcare Decisions Day to encourage people to think about it, I say let's celebrate it.