Part of being a family caregiver to an aging parent involves thinking about what will happen when your parent reaches the end of their life. Decisions surrounding a loved one’s death are never easy, but having certain documents in place can make those decisions easier since your parent will have already made their wishes known. Chances are you’ve heard terms like “advance directive,” “living will,” and others, but you may feel like you don’t have a good grasp on what they mean and how they apply to your parent’s end of life care. Below are some common types of documents that are important for family caregivers and seniors to understand as they make decisions about the future.
An advance directive refers to any document that a person puts in place concerning future health care decisions should they become otherwise incapable of making their wishes known. Living wills and health care power of attorney documents are both types of advance directives.
A living will is a kind of advance directive document that explains what kinds of medical treatment they want as they near death. The document is important because it gives family caregivers and doctors guidance about your parent’s wishes in case they become incapable of speaking for themselves. The document must be signed by your parent and witnessed or notarized. Some states have specific laws surrounding living wills and may even have suggested documents to use in creating a living will. Be sure that you are familiar with the laws in your area regarding living wills. A doctor or social worker may be able to assist you with finding the information you need.
Health Care Proxy/Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care proxy, which is sometimes called a health care power of attorney, gives a person that your parent chooses the right to make medical decisions for them when they cannot speak for themselves. The person named can make decisions about things like surgeries or life-support. The person your parent chooses as their health care proxy should be someone they trust to make the decisions they would make if they could. It’s important for your parent to have a conversation with the health care proxy about their beliefs and values concerning treatment and end of life decisions.
A will is a financial document that explains how your parent wants their money and belongings dispersed when they die. A will can be handwritten or your parent can use a form. Forms can be provided by attorneys or you can find forms online. If your parent has a substantial estate, it may be best for them to work with an attorney to make certain all of their state’s laws are followed and things go according to their plan. Your parent must complete and sign a will while they are competent. They must also appoint an executor who will pay any bills that are left and make sure all parts of the estate are dispersed as indicated in the will. If your parent does not create a will, their estate will enter probate and the state will disperse money and belongings according to the state’s laws.
Though the conversation between adult children and their senior parents about the parent’s end of life decisions may be difficult, having the right documents in place and decisions made can make their passing just a little easier on family members. The documents allow family caregivers to know that they have done what their parent wanted, which can alleviate any confusion or guilt over final decisions.
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