In a previous post, I listed the legal documents everyone should have in place but since Mom's death I have real world reasons why these legal tools are necessary. Yeah, I know, nobody wants to think about illness and death and putting these documents in place acknowledges that we have an expiration date and nobody wants to think about that. But as I said before, if you get your paperwork in order those left behind will thank you plus you can take on an air of superiority. Very few Americans have a Living Will and only 45% have a Last Will and Testament.
My father and mother were very good about getting their paperwork in order. They never spoke of what motivated them but I believe control was a big issue as well as avoiding conflict. I am grateful because for the most part, they accomplished what they set out to accomplish. The Living Will was the first document that went into effect when both Mom and Dad became ill. It spelled out clearly their wishes in the event of a major medical occurrence and the medical profession welcomed the document. It guides thinking when emotions are high and decisions are difficult. But I am going to restate what many in the legal and the medical professionals say all the time. Once you put a Living Will in place, talk to the people involved about your wishes.
I encourage this for two reasons. First, you want everyone to follow your plan. We ran into a snag not with family but with one of the paid full time caregivers. When Mom had what turned out to be her final stroke, key family members were out of town. Once we realized the seriousness of mom's condition, we instructed the caregiver to call in hospice. She refused. She had become emotionally attached to mom and could not bring herself to admit this was the end. It made for some tense times as we sat at the gate at the airport making multiple phone calls to hospice to get the help mom needed.
The second reason is to help family members avoid guilt in the future. My father suffered a fatal stroke that put him into a coma. After three days in a coma, the doctors at the Mayo Clinic patiently explained to my mother the medical realities of my father's condition. They gently explained that my father was gone and that machines were keeping his heart pumping. For years afterwards, she would occasionally say that maybe we should have waited a "few" more days before taking dad off the machines. We reminded her that dad was very specific in his instructions about the end of life and that she had done the right thing in following his wishes. That gave her some peace.
The Power of Attorney is a powerful tool. Bluntly it states that your designate can do anything you can do. They can sell or buy property, enter into agreements and make legal and financial decisions on your behalf. This document turned out to be a helpful tool to our mom and family. Once mom started stroking she could not balance her check book or remember to pay the light bill. It became necessary for someone to step in and help her. She had already put in place a Power of Attorney and chosen her designate. That was really the key. She chose my son, Matthew, because she trusted him, he lived locally and he had an MBA. An MBA is really not necessary but she was proud of her grandson and it gave her comfort to know he was balancing her checkbook. Additionally the rest of the family trusted him and recognized that he would work to fulfill mom's wishes. The challenge here is choosing the right person at the right time.
Lastly, the Last Will and Testament. I am so glad that Mom and Dad had this document in place. For the people left behind, death is not only an emotional time but requires a legal response. Everything from turning off mom's cell phone to selling her house required legal authority and documentation to do so. Yes, if you fail to put a will in place, the state will come in and dictate to your family and/or friends how to get this done. But it is cumbersome and slow going. Your will offers a framework for others to work under. It states who will be your executor, who will care for minor children and how to distribute property. It is not like in the old Perry Mason movies where family members come together for the reading of the will. Though I guess if you were into the drama of it all you could require that. It is more about creating a document that will help your family maneuver the legal process once you are gone.
I am grateful to my parents for taking care of life's paperwork because losing your parents is difficult enough without the added burden of dealing with government bureaucracy without it. I had my paperwork put in place years ago. Yes there was some anxiety during the process but today, I rarely think about it. And do know my children will thank me once the time comes. When I talk about living an intentional life, this is an area that needs intentionality. It does require taking the time to think through what you believe and what you want from life even at the end, how you want to treat others and then putting a plan in place. Plus it means you could join the 45% and enjoy feeling just a little superior to the remaining 55%.