Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Last Gift of Love

Just recently I read an article in the Detroit Free Press written by one of their columnist Kristen Jordan Shamus ( ). In it she discussed dealing with those end of life health issues we all face. And she went on to explain how much it meant to her and her family when the time came that her grandmother had made her wishes known and had in place a do-not-resuscitate order.

It reminded me just how often people forget that some day we all leave those we love to make decisions for us. Sometimes these decisions come after we are gone and are the usual things like funeral arraignments, or who gets moms stamp collection. Other times they come while we are still here but not able to make them ourselves. The worst of course are those dealing with health and resuscitation matters.

But regardless of when that time comes we shouldn't leave our loved ones to try to do what they think is the right thing just when it's hardest on them without our help and guidance. If you think it's hard to decide what you might want in a living will imagine how hard it is on someone else to guess your wishes and make that decision for you under all the emotional stress of a medical emergency.

So while it's not easy to think about such things and we all love to put them off as long as we can that's not the fair and loving thing to do. Every one of us should take the time and provide the guidance, both legal and emotional, that getting our affairs in order provides for our family and loved ones.

Once you make up your mind it's not really that hard. It's more a matter of getting started.

And the best place to start is with a living will. That one instrument will give more peace of mind than any single document you can provide if it's ever needed. No one wants to make the decision of denying medical procedures or treatments to someone who’s dying. The forms are available at most doctors’ offices, hospitals, and of course can be found on line or through an attorney. Surprisingly living wills aren't that hard to understand and they are something that most people can do on their own.

Next, and many ways more important, is a will and that's going to take more time and effort as it deals with financial and legal issues and it isn't something that you will want to rush. Sadly most people will find the need to consult with an attorney to help them. That's not the most pleasant thought but it may be the best way. Of course today they have many computer software packages that can help a person do it themselves but that's not necessarily a good idea with something this important. So unless you are really comfortable working with complex issues see an attorney. Remember leaving no will is better than leaving one that has legal problems and ends up in costly court time to resolve those problems.

And last is a good set of records and a note or letter to explain those things that will need to be known right after your death. This isn't something you keep locked up or in your safety box at the bank because people will need it immediately available. Where all your bank accounts are, what insurance policies you have, and even the songs you want used in your funeral services aren't things most people (including a spouse) have total knowledge of. So start writing things down and thinking about everything you can think of someone might need to know right after your death.

Once you start writing it will surprise you how it comes together. Just take the time to be as complete as possible. And remember this information changes all the time and so it needs to be reviewed at least once a year. I've found that setting some definite date every year helps me get it done. It can be any time that is easy to remember from your birthday to when they change to daylight savings time. One of the best things is that most of us have computers to create and store such records. Even if you aren’t computer literate you can find someone to help you. Just be sure that others know about this information and how to retrieve it. And remember such a list is not something you want to fall into the wrong hands so take care to keep it safe yet available.

In closing I just want to say I wish you all the best with this project and here are some places you can get information about living wills, wills, and other documents. And a special thanks to Kristen for reminding me that we need to spread the word about this issue.

Living wills, wills, and medical directives links

Care Connections at

AARP's Web site,

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