What Not To Do When Preparing End of Life Documents

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You’ve heard it more times than you can count. You need to get your end of life documents together. Particularly when you’re “of a certain age” everyone is pushing you to complete end of life documents—doctors, lawyers, accountants and especially your adult kids.

So what are the basic end of life documents? Advance directives are written instructions about your wishes if you were unable to make decisions regarding treatment. While advance directives (medical power of attorney, living will) are essential end of life documents, they also can be consulted if you have surgery or have been in an accident. Wills indicate who will receive your money and property upon death and can indicate funeral preferences. Many attorneys also recommend trusts and lifestyle care plans too.

So what should you not do when creating your end of life documents?

1.  Don’t set your loved ones up for big surprises. Yes, you have every right to do whatever you want when you create your end of life documents. But springing major surprises on family and friends can incite discord and even estrangement. For example, Sharon decided to make her best friend Sarah her medical power of attorney to spare her adult children from having to make difficult decisions if she were unable to make them herself. Sharon’s adult kids did not hear about this until her dementia was so advanced that they could not discuss the decision with their mother. While it is Sharon’s right to appoint whoever she likes, this situation caused unnecessary drama during a difficult time for everyone.

2.  Don’t let emotions only drive decisions for end of life documents. While it would have been better for Sharon’s family if she’d had an open, honest discussion about her power of attorney choice before she was incapacitated, it was good that Sharon chose who she wanted.

Many people choose their will’s executor based on age or “status” within the family. For example, Tom selected his oldest son Charlie to be his executor, believing that Charlie’s feelings would be hurt if he did not. Tom made this decision solely based on emotion. Logically he knows Charlie is disorganized and may struggle with all the paperwork. But he believed Charlie would have been upset if he didn’t select him.

Think about what qualities are necessary when appointing people in your end of life documents. An executor should be organized; a medical power of attorney should be able to stand up to scrutiny when carrying out your wishes even if others don’t agree.

3.  Don’t prepare end of life documents and stick them in some drawer. Your healthcare providers (and whoever you appoint as medical power of attorney) need copies of your advance directives. Your loved ones need to know that you’ve made a will and where it’s kept. End of life documents, in order to be effective, must be shared.

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