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Topics In Elder Law – the Advanced Health Care Directive: The Pandemic Has Made End-Of-Life Discussions Easier To Initiate

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Elder Law Discussion: Advanced Health Care Directive and End-of-Life Discussions


In years past, many people would do everything possible to avoid having the discussion about planning for death and/or incapacity. When people are healthy they often think they are immortal. Well, all it took was a pandemic to change that way of thinking.

The COVID Pandemic and Elder Law Topics: End-of-Life Discussions

When the pandemic began early this year, it’s true that the most vulnerable people were elderly, many of whom resided in nursing homes. However, the demographic changed quickly. People of every age have died of COVID-19, from infants to teenagers, to young adults and middle-aged adults. Age is no longer the calling card for death from this pandemic. And fortunately, it has stimulated the important conversations among loved ones that used to be so difficult.

Do you know if your parents have an Advanced Health Care Directive? Now, right now, is the best time to initiate the end-of-life conversation with your parents, especially if they are in their 60’s or 70’s and you’ve not yet had it. It’s time to discuss end of life desires with your spouse or partner no matter your age. It’s time to have it with your children who are 18 and older.

Working together with a reputable attorney to create an estate and asset protection plan is important if you have any valuable assets. Not just for the ultra-wealthy, an estate and asset protection plan legally makes certain your assets are protected against lawsuits and makes sure your belongings are distributed as you designate. In addition, it’s important to include an Advance Health Care Directive as well as a Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). A POLST replaces a Do Not Resuscitate order. I have detailed the important details of both below.

Find Out If Your Loved Ones Have An Advance Health Care Directive

During this pandemic, having someone in a position to make health care decisions for yourself or your loved ones when unable to speak for oneself is absolutely critical.  An Advance Health Care Directive, also called a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, gives the person you designate the ability to make health care decisions for you ONLY IF you can’t speak for yourself. Be aware that if you or your loved one does not have an Advance Health Care Directive, doctors will do everything to treat the condition and keep the patient alive. The family

will be asked what to do and under duress, this kind of situation is likely to cause distress and conflict among family members.

What follows are other important things to know about an Advance Health Care Directive
  • Each state has slightly different versions of the form, but a form from one state will be honored in another state
  • Hospitals and doctor’s offices have the forms
  • Everyone over 18 should have one
  • Must be completed while you are competent to know what you are signing, i.e. without dementia
  • Often used to decide on feeding tubes, ventilators, and other treatments at the end of life or when someone is unconscious
  • Only needs to be witnessed; does not need to be notarized

Find Out If Your Loved One Has Or Desires A POLST

As I mentioned earlier, POLST stands for Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment and replaces DNR—Do Not Resuscitate orders.

This document allows individuals with life-threatening illnesses to decide with their doctors what treatment they would or wouldn’t want. Since it is a physician’s order, it is not open to the will of others. This comes in particularly if you do not want 911 Emergency Responders to perform CPR (Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and expands on other treatments you might or might not want. If you don’t have a POLST and 911 is called, EMTs are required to do everything possible to resuscitate a person and keep him/her alive until they arrive at the hospital.

Important Health Care Decisions Must Be Made Before It’s Too Late

Too late is when you’re critically ill. Too late is when you are no longer in your right mind. The important end-of-life decisions must be made when you are healthy enough to consider the outcomes rationally. Please don’t hesitate. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are all vulnerable. We can mask up, wash our hands, stay socially distant, but there’s nothing more comforting than knowing that no matter what happens the wishes of your parents, children, spouse and your own wishes are legally determined. Give us a call before it’s too late.