Health care directives, or living wills, made major headlines during the Terri Schiavo case and many people talked about the need for such documents. But as the topic has faded from the headlines, it has also faded from our minds. A health care directive allows you to express your wishes and make decisions on medical issues if you are unable to communicate with your doctors. You can also appoint an agent to make these decisions for you. Even though the subject matter may be difficult, getting a health care directive is really simple. What excuse do you have for putting it off?
Health Care & Health Care Directives
The best thing you can ever give someone you love is peace of mind. Stress and uncertainty can take a toll on all of us, the comfort and reassurance that comes from a loved one’s hug or kind words can go a long way of relieving the burden.
You may have noticed it has been awhile since my last blog post. Life and a busy law practice sometimes gets in the way of blogging. For those of you who know me, you know that I spent the last part of July in Colorado with my grandparents. My grandpa was ill and passed away. I was there in those final days, and I was there to help my grandma with the arrangements that followed.
While ultimately everything went well (and we had a beautiful funeral service – a great tribute to a wonderful man), there are bound to be some bumps during any emotional crisis, and I could not help but feel (yet again) just how important it is to:
*Update Your Will. Hire an attorney to draft it, and hire an attorney who will really take the time to explain the documents to you. Make sure your documents are up to date and make sense to you.
The funeral home had requested my grandpa’s will, and we were told the personal representative would need to sign the papers authorizing cremation. At one point my grandma did not think she was the personal representative. She and I were going through the estate documents trying to make sense of them. For a brief period time, things were feeling rather chaotic.
*Discuss Your End of Life Health Care Preferences. Spending those last few days with my grandpa in hospice was difficult. We were all prone to second guess the decisions that had been made. When those feelings of self-doubt started taking over we were able to remind ourselves of those comments that had been made years ago on how he wished to live his life.
While you still can, share your preferences with your loved ones on how you would like to be treated. What type of pain management would you want? Would you want a feeding tube? What quality of life is important to you? And then get a Health Care Directive – put those preferences in a legal document and/or give someone else the authority to make decisions for you.
*Plan Your Funeral. I don’t necessarily mean you have to plan every detail, or do an official pre-plan, but at least talk about what type of services you would like your family to have. While we knew it was coming, and we had slowly started working on it, there was a “Now what?” moment. How do you even get started planning a funeral?
Are there any special songs, prayers, poems, or Scripture you would like to have included? A certain place you would like the services held? A certain person to perform the service or give a eulogy? Do you want to be buried or cremated? If you are cremated, what do you want done with your cremains? Talk to your loved ones about the funeral may be paid for and your expectations. (Let them know when it may be okay to go with the budget model and when you would expect them to splurge a bit).
As a lawyer, I have to tell you how important it is to have the legal documents. Your wishes may not be legally enforceable without the proper legal documents, and it truly is important to go through the proper channels to ensure your wishes will be followed.
But as a granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife, and friend, I cannot stress enough the importance of having these conversations, making the plans, and expressing your wishes. Don’t think that having ‘The Talk’ once is enough. “Dad told me once that he wanted ___” is totally different than “Dad always told me he wanted ______.”
That feeling of peace of mind your loved ones will have when they KNOW they are making arrangements and decisions according to your wishes is more valuable than anything else you can leave behind.
And if you know of anyone needing hospice care or funeral services in Colorado, I can not say enough good things about HospiceCare of Boulder and Broomfield Counties and Horan & McConaty. Everyone we worked with was compassionate, caring, knowledgeable, understanding, and professional. They did their best to make a difficult time a little bit easier.
There are two big misconceptions when it comes to estate planning: (1) Only the rich need to worry about estate planning; and (2) Only people with kids need to worry about estate planning. When it comes to estate planning, young adults with minimal assets and no children are all too often overlooked. Unfortunately, failure to get the essential documents done can wreak havoc for any individual and his/her family in case of incapacity or death. A 19-year old college student may still be treated as a child within the family, but legally speaking he is an adult. If the student ends up in a coma, Mom and Dad will have a difficult time getting medical information and being able to make treatment decisions. Mom and Dad may need to spend time and money on a pricey legal proceeding to gain guardianship over their incapacitated child. A 25-year old working adult can face financial ruin if she is in an accident and no one is able to step in and handle her financial matters. An expensive conservatorship proceeding may be required.
At the very least, every adult should take care of the following:
- Health Care Directive – This document is necessary when you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself. You can appoint someone else to make decisions for you and/or leave instructions on what medical treatment you would (or would not) want. Having a health care directive can avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding.
- Power of Attorney – This document can appoint an individual to handle financial decisions during your incapacity. Accounts can be accessed and bills can be paid, and the time and expense of a conservatorship proceeding can be avoided.
- Beneficiary Designations – For young adults, a Will may not be necessary (if there are no children, limited assets, and a desire for probate assets to pass through the laws of intestacy). But everyone should utilize beneficiary designations for bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other investments.
I strongly believe that every adult should take care of these basics. I offer a “Just the Essentials” package for individuals looking to put together a Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney, and update their beneficiary designations. I also include a Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney for the dependent adult children of my clients in all other estate planning packages. To make sure you, or your adult children, are covered, contact me for more information.
Many people wonder what they can put in their Health Care Directive. The answer to that question really is, what do you want to put in it?
Your Health Care Directive can be as specific or as general as you want. You can appoint health care agent(s) and alternate health care agent(s) and specify if they can act independently or must act jointly. You can explain your general goals, values, and beliefs that impact your thoughts about health care. You can provide specific health care instructions regarding medical treatments, pain relief, nutrition and hydration, and mental health treatments. You can have special provisions for pregnancy. A Health Care Directive can also specify where you want to receive medical care or state your preference for a court-appointed guardian or conservator. And finally, you can use your Health Care Directive to state your preference as to donations of organs and tissues, cremation or burial, and funeral arrangements. What you do with a Health Care Directive is really up to you, because YOUR DECISIONS MATTER.
For information on Health Care Directives specifically in Minnesota, check out the Minnesota Department of Health’s Questions and Answers on Health Care Directives. Besides the general what is a health care directive and how to make one, there is also a good list of what you can put in a health care directive.
It is almost here! Tomorrow is National Healthcare Decisions Day! What are you doing tomorrow? The Minnesota NHDD Committee of Hospice Minnesota and the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Elder Law Section has released this list of NHDD Events happening around the state:
William Mitchell College of Law – , St. Paul, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Students and Attorneys available; 4:00 p.m. – Presentation by Kathy Eveslage, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, and Fran Conklin, Hospice – Room 225. For information, contact: Janelle.firstname.lastname@example.org
John Kantke and Harley Schreck – Elim Church, 685 13th Ave NE , 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Open to all, but geared towards seniors. For information, contact: John Kantke at email@example.com, Harley Schreck,; or firstname.lastname@example.org,
Barb Blumer – Eagan Seniors Room, Eagan Community Center , 1501 Central Parkway ,Eagan, 11:00 a.m. to noon. For more information, call:
Henningson & Snoxell, Ltd. and Fairview Maple Grove Medical Center – Fairview Medical Center, 14500 99th Ave. N. , Maple Grove, Wednesday, April 16th – Starting at 11:00 a.m. and Thursday, April 17th – Starting at 7:00 p.m. For clients, patients and other interested persons. Call Susan Peterson at for more information or to register. Sessions are open to all, but space is limited.
Jennifer R. Lewis Kannegieter, Attorney at Law – Dunn Brothers, 1220 State Hwy 25, 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. For information, contact Jennifer Lewis Kannegieter at: email@example.com.
Grathwol Law Office – South Shore Senior Center, Shorewood, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. For seniors and community members. For information, contact the Grathwol Law Office at:
If you are in the Monticello/Wright County area, please come see me at the Dunn Brothers for information on advance care planning and free health care directives.
In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), Wednesday April 16, 2008, the next couple weeks will be devoted to providing information and sharing resources for advance health care planning. Please join me for my Monticello NHDD event or contact participating organizations in your state to find a local event. Check out this page for all the postings on NHDD and advance care planning.
Perhaps the most comprehensive online resource for advance care planning is the ABA Commission on Law and Aging’s Consumer’s Tool Kit for Health Care Advance Planning. Advance care planning is a difficult process. It requires you to do some soul searching; think about your values; contemplate serious illness, injury, and death; consider numerous situations and possible treatments; and share your thoughts, feelings, and wishes with family and health care providers. The ABA Commission on Law and Aging attempts to make this an easier process by providing 10 “tools” to help you make decisions on advanced care planning and talk to your family and doctors. These tools include things to think about, various quizes to help you make decisions and communicate them to others, and scripts to get the conversation started. The tool kit also includes a guide for health care agents and information on other resources. If you are having trouble getting started with your advance health care planning, I suggest you take a look at the tool kit.
The 10 Tools of the Tool Kit are: