We at Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP believe that estate planning includes planning with regard to what will happen to us – not just to our property and other assets – when we're at the end of our lives. We make it part of our service to you to enter into a discussion about what you want and don't want to happen when the end of life is near. This is only the first conversation; we encourage you to share your feelings, values and wishes with your loved ones and medical practitioners. We practice what we preach. If we don't engage in this planning, we’re vulnerable to what can transpire by default – spending our last few days in an ICU, even if that’s at odds with our needs and preferences.
“Dying well” is quite personal. Your conversation(s) with the people you’re closest to lets them know how you want to die and how they, surviving friends and family members, can help carry out your wishes without uncertainty and guilt. People who’d prefer to die at home can do so, and benefit from pain management and comfort over costly and "heroic" measures. Having this conversation before a crisis – or being open to such conversations – gives everyone time to digest, reflect and integrate the information.
We want you to be clear about end of life treatment so that family members and medical providers have the guidance they need to respect your preferences. Loved ones need to talk to one another when circumstances aren’t so charged. Better that these conversations occur around a dining table than around a hospital bed.
Most of you have already signed an Advance Health Care Directive. That is a huge benefit to you and to your loved ones. But be sure to keep the conversations going. The person you appointed to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to speak for yourself needs to feel comfortable with your wishes and to understand your values. Having the rest of your family "on board" is also important.
Wednesday, April 16, is Health Care Decisions Day. Let this be a reminder to communicate with those you care about so that your life can reflect your values and wishes – even at its end. Then go out and celebrate life!
Myra Gerson Gilfix was the founding Chair of Healthcare Decision-making Special Interest Group (SIG) for the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. This SIG dealt with multiple issues regarding health care, including health care advance directives, durable powers of attorney, DNR orders, biomedical ethics, issues relating to pain relief, dying at home, palliative care, and informed consent.