Start a New Year by writing your End of Life Plans and tell your family and friends. This will reduce the stress on your family when the time comes. You can also be assured that your loved ones or caregivers are aware of your End of Life Wishes. This will provide your loved ones with peace of mind and they will not wonder if they made the right decisions for you.
It’s important to consider your End of Life Planning in advance, which will put your mind at ease. By making a plan before you die, you will be able to make financial, legal and other decisions much easier for your family to deal with upon your passing.
Your plan should include the decisions relating to what happens during your End of Life Care and also if you incapacitated.
Start Your End of Life Conversation
Most people are ready to discuss nutrition, food and healthy living, but are not willing to speak about dying or End of Life Planning. It’s an inevitable fact of life we’re all going to die, whilst it’s not something you want to consider. You can make things a lot easier for your loved if you have an End of Life Plan to have your affairs in order. So that is why it’s so important to have an End of Life Conversation.
You need to talk to your loved ones about what you have planned or what you want regarding your End of Life journey. This conversation may not be initially accepted or it may be avoided altogether, but don’t give up. Research has shown that loved ones are grateful for this conversation, even though it’s a difficult topic to discuss. Lack of End of Life Planning appears to have a greater impact on families during periods of terminal illness or the months following the death.
Three Legal Documents to Have Before You Die
Part of the End of Life Planning process is dealing with the legal paperwork to facilitate your wishes. The legal documents commonly used in Australia to manage your affairs are:
Will: A Last Will is a legal document outlining how your money and your estate are to be distributed after you die. Most, but not all, of your property can be disposed of in a Will.
It is estimated that only 55% of Australians have a valid will, with the remaining 45% having no will or a will that has not been updated. (1)
Power of Attorney: A Power of Attorney is a legal document which grants authority to another person the power to act for you. It can be for a specific purpose or time. Usually, it’s to make financial decisions for you when you are not available such as you will be overseas or in hospital.
Advance Directive: Depending on the Australian State you live in this document can be referred to as a Living Will, Advanced Health Directive or an Advance Care Directive. Advance Health/Care Directives are used to appoint a person as your Substitute Decision-Maker to make healthcare and personal care decisions on your behalf.
The Directive is the formal way of giving instructions for your future health care and treatment. The document outlines any medical treatment preferences you may want or would not agree to in the event you can no longer communicate or are incapable of giving consent yourself.
An Australia a survey found that only 14% of Australians have an Advance Care or Health Directive in place.(2)
End of Life Plans
Part of End of Life Planning is to consider what you value most about your current life as it relates to your physical and mental health? :
These can include:
- your ability to take part in various activities
- the amount of independence you enjoy and
- the type and amount of interaction you have with family and friends.
Once you have considered the above points about what you value most in life, you are ready to move onto the next step. This requires you to consider what conditions would make life unacceptable for you. An example of this is being confined to a bed or connected to a life support machine.
Improvements in medical procedures have provided increased life expectancy for us all. This has given the medical professionals the ability to prolong the End of Life. But, such intervention may require you to live with many major limitations.
These may include:
- a lack of mobility
- loss of ability to control bodily functions
- impaired mental capacity
- having to be dependent on life support and
- the loss of dignity.
This may be intolerable to you.
A study has shown that over 50% of seriously ill hospital patients would rather not be kept alive on life support when there is little hope of significant recovery. Advanced Care Planning is often only considered:
- in older aged individuals or
- when a specific diagnosis of a life-threatening illness is made.
Life-threatening illnesses or tragic events can occur at any time. This is why an End of Life Conversation needs to be undertaken now.
Planning for the End is Very Important for Everybody
Planning for the End of Life is very important for everybody. None more so than people with multiple medical issues and those that are frail or suffering chronic disease. Frailty indicates that the End of Life is approaching. Life-extending medical intervention may not be an appropriate or effective treatment.
Seventy percent of Australians stated that they wished to die at home, this is often not the reality.
The fact is only 14% do so.(2)
Without a clear Advance Care Plan that has been communicated to loved ones, you may, in reality, find yourself in a hospital situation. When all you wish for is to be at home receiving pain and symptom management as the end approaches
With the knowledge about health care procedures in your state, you can use your Health Care Directive to express your wishes. Such as stating that you would want to receive all available treatment. You can include information about yourself that health professionals need to know, such as:
- any special health conditions
- allergies to medications
- any religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs
that could affect your care.
An Advance Health/Care Directive can have specific instructions covering the medical treatment you would want to receive. You can specify the type of life-sustaining measures to prolong your life. These include
- receiving any cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- artificial ventilation to keep you breathing
- refusing to receive a blood transfusion based on religious beliefs.
You can also use your Advance Health/Care Directive to outline your views about the quality of life that would be acceptable to you. Deciding what specific life-prolonging measures should be withheld or withdrawn in certain situations. These include:
- if you were to suffer irreversible brain damage rendering you unable to communicate
- diagnosed with an illness or injury so severe that there is no reasonable prospect that you will recover, or
- have a terminal illness for which there is no known cure nor chance of you recovering.
The Worry of Being a Burden
Many ill and elderly people express their concern about being a burden on their families. End-of-Life Planning confirms the wishes of a person. This reduces the burden of doubt and guilt on loved ones once the person’s End of Life preferences are known.
You may have a written Will for your personal possessions and property you have accumulated over a lifetime. So why not also complete an Advance Care Plan and an Advance Health/Care Directive for yourself today! Your family will also be grateful that you had done this.
What Happens to Your Digital Life?
One aspect of people’s lives that is often overlooked is their online presence. Including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any email accounts that the person may have.
Having the passwords to any computers, smartphones, and any above-mentioned applications is important. This allows access to either retrieve information or disable your websites and protect sensitive information. Knowing the passwords will also enable family members to post a digital message in your memory.
Funeral or Memorial Service – Final Plan
End of Life Planning should include information relating to the funeral and memorial service you want. It should list any specific requirements you want for the celebration of your life. It’s advisable to have all details written and discuss it with the family. This reduces the frustration and assists loved ones to plan and make sure wishes are carried out.
You will need to inform your loved ones about any funeral requests you have including:
- if you want a burial or cremation
- what music did you want to be played?
- a request that your coffin is decorated in your favourite football team colours
- which holy book readings or inspirational poems would you like read?
- any preferences of who would deliver the eulogy
- if flowers are to be bought or have mourners donate to a specific charity.
You will also need to tell your family if you have already arranged a pre-paid funeral service or resting place.
End of Life Planning Documents
Now you have started to prepare your End of Life Plan it’s time to organise all the documents. These should be placed into a master file or folder. These documents must be secured either in a hard or electronic format. Consider storing them in a fireproof safe at home or in a safety deposit box at a particular branch of a bank.
The location should be communicated to your family or nominated person so they can have access when the time comes.
Undertaking this End of Life Planning will allow your family to have a clear vision of your planned wishes. This will enable you to spend quality time with your family and not be burdened at a time when you wish to spend your final moments with your loved ones.
Planning for death before you die is for everyone’s benefit and peace of mind.
Have you told you family what your End of Life Plans are?
(1) NSW Trustee & Guardian, Attorney General & Justice, What is a Will? viewed at http://www.tag.nsw.gov.au/what-is-a-will.html
(2) Relationships Australia, (2016), May 2016: End of Life Planning, viewed at http://www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/research/online-survey/