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What’s Your Plan?

Planning under pressure can lead to unintended results. That’s why most people plan for life’s milestones: the birth of a child, a career, retirement. However, planning for the last chapter of life is something most of us would rather not think about.

The best time to plan is when you’re under no pressure. Weighing your options and making your wishes known before a crisis arises can help both your peace of mind and your family’s confidence in following your decisions, should there come a time when you can’t speak for yourself.

Don’t wait until the pressure is on – do yourself and your loved ones a favor, and make a plan now.

More than 90% of people believe it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care.
• Fewer than 30% of people have actually done it.

70% of people say they prefer to die at home.
• 70% die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term-care facility.

80% of people say that if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care.
• Only 7% report having had this conversation.

82% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing.
• 23% have actually done so.

Communication is the single most important step in health care planning. Making your wishes known is one of the most generous gifts you can give to a loved one. When you’re ready to have the conversation, think about the basics.
Who do you want to talk to? Who do you trust to speak for you?
When would be a good time to talk — the next big holiday, a family meal, an evening phone call?
Where would you feel comfortable talking – at the kitchen table, a restaurant, on a drive or walk?
What do you want to be sure to say?
Conversation Starters
“I love you and I want to talk about something important to me.”
“I need your help with something.”
“I was remembering the way [Aunt June] died, and it got me thinking…”
“Even though I’m okay right now, I want to be prepared.”
“I need to think about the future. Will you help me?”
“I just answered some questions about how I want the end of my life to be. I want you to see my answers, and I’m wondering what your answers would be.”

Instructions for how you want to be treated during the final phase of life are known as “advance directives.” Writing your instructions down and signing them in the presence of two qualified witnesses can make them legal documents.
A number of advance directive forms are available. You may download one or more of the forms below and use them to communicate your instructions.

My Plan
Answer these six questions to let your loved ones and healthcare providers know your preferences for your end-of-life experience.

Medical Power of Attorney
This document allows you to designate a family or friend to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to make or communicate your wishes yourself. This person will become your legal healthcare agent. Appoint a good advocate who understands your values and beliefs and can also talk with doctors and other family members.
Witnesses to your Medical Power of Attorney must be a minimum of 18 years of age. Your designated healthcare agent, healthcare provider or provider’s employee, or an employee of any facility in which you live may not witness this document. At least one of the witnesses must not be related to you or be in a position to benefit financially from your death.

Living Will
This is a legal document that guides health care professionals, family members and trusted friends in understanding the types of life-sustaining measures that you would or would not want. It goes into effect only when you have a terminal or irreversible condition.

Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order
This document is completed and signed by a physician at your request to prevent using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for restarting your heart or breathing. It does not prevent medical interventions for comfort.
NOTE: When printing, print as a two-sided document; the signed form must include the instructions on the reverse. Once complete, post the document in your home, keep a copy with you, and give a copy to each healthcare provider. Emergency Medical Services cannot honor this order unless it is signed by both you and your physician.

The Gift
You also can download a free copy of “The Gift” from Hospice Austin. This is a tool designed to provide basic information to your family about your assets, liabilities and personal desires. Although “The Gift” is not intended to replace or supersede a will or any other legal documents you may have executed, each family member, Power of Attorney, Executor, Trustee and Guardian can use the document to help make discretionary decisions for you and your family.

Ellen Goodman, the former syndicated columnist for the Boston Globe, co-founded “The Conversation Project” after the death of her parents. In 2010, she and a group of colleagues and concerned media, clergy, and medical professionals gathered to share stories of “good deaths” and “bad deaths” within their own circle of loved ones. Over several months, a vision emerged for a grassroots public campaign to encourage people to talk now and as often as necessary so that their wishes are known. The website (Conversation Project.org) is a trove of information and offers a conversation starter kit, stories, and videos to help you get started.

If you change your mind after any of these documents is completed, simply fill out a new form, then sign and have them witnessed again. Tell your loved ones, physician, and healthcare agent about the changes and give them copies of the new form.