Some might recoil a bit at this article…it is about planning for the end of life. There is a lack of knowledge regarding what we can or should do to prepare for the end of our lives. Some don’t want to talk about it, as if talking about death would make it come sooner. I admit that it is hard to talk about and easy to procrastinate. Ecclesiastes 3:2 says that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die.” The Bible actually has quite a lot to say about death, but what I want to talk about here is the years, months, weeks, or days just before death comes; and the days, weeks, and months following the death of you or your loved one. Are you ready for that? Hope is not a plan.
There are some legal documents that we should all have, and though I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer and I’m not trying to give medical or legal advice, I would like to make you aware of some of these. I also realize that this might be read by people in states other than Arkansas, and the laws vary from state to state.
The Last Will and Testament is the legal document that says who gets your stuff after you die. Many times this is what we call a Will. The simplest of these is called a holographic will, and consists of a piece of paper, handwritten (in your own handwriting), signed and dated. Typing a will requires that it then be notarized with witnesses. States vary on whether this is accepted in probate court. Your will is basically a document telling a court what you want done with your stuff. If you die without a will (called intestate), a judge will decide what to do with your stuff. The surest way to have your wishes are carried out after you die is to hire a lawyer to make out your will. The cheapest way is to simply write it out on a piece of paper, sign and date it, then if you live in a state that recognizes holographic wills, that will help your family in probate court. A trust is a way of accomplishing this without probate court.
A Living Will is very different from a Last Will and Testament. The Living Will, or Advance Directive tells health care workers (your doctors) what you would like to have done if the unthinkable…a tragic accident or mind-robbing disease ends your life prematurely (prematurely meaning before I get ready for it to end…whatever age that might be). The living will can be very specific or very general. I saw one for a former co-worker that stated that she could be on a ventilator for a certain number of days, then it should be withdrawn, what medications were acceptable, etc.
On one occasion, for one of my loved ones, all her children agreed with her doctor that everything within reason that could done should be done, then they would let her go peacefully. She didn’t have a living will. Fortunately all 15 of her children and her doctor were in agreement. All that could be done was done, then, several weeks later, she was allowed to pass peacefully from this life.
You can read about the Terri Schiavo case to get another side of another story of another person. She didn’t have a Living Will either.
If either of these two ladies had lived in Arkansas and read the Living Will Packet from Arkansas Legal Services, filled out the form, gave a copy to their loved ones, another copy to their doctor, and kept the original in a place that was easy to find…the outcomes could have been less traumatic for those left behind.
Wherever you live, you can find your state’s equivalent documents online. It is not expensive, not complicated, and much easier to do than to leave it up to someone else to worry about. The courts already have enough to do and I prefer to have my desires written out plain, clear and simple rather than let a judge decide.
While we are talking about Living Wills and Advance Directives, let me introduce you to the Power of Attorney for Health Care. Who would speak for you if you were in a hospital emergency room and could not speak for yourself? First, you would be cared for. United States Law provides for emergency care, but after the emergency is over, who gets to (or has to) decide? Generally, the spouse (legally married in Arkansas…not common-law); if there is no spouse, the children; if no spouse or children, the parents, then the siblings. Next come (if there are none of the above) grandparents, first cousins, aunts and uncles…etc.
Is there a way that I can designate who speaks for me? I’m glad you asked. Yes, it’s called a Power of Attorney…in this case a Power of Attorney for Health Care or Health Care Proxy. A General Power of Attorney can include Health Care, and it should either be specified in a General Power of Attorney, or you need a Power of Attorney for Health Care.
It is a very good idea to determine who will decide on your behalf, then make that official by downloading the document from someplace like this Power of Attorney for Health Care or the equivalent in your state of residence. Fill it out, give a copy to that person (and you can also specify a “back-up” person in the document), another copy to your doctor, etc. Keep the original with all your other important documents (unless they are under lock and key).
Funeral Planning is often overlooked by those in denial about our own mortality. We have on our Simmons Chaplain Website a funeral planning form. If you prefer it in a Word Document, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a copy of the Funeral Planning Document in Word format.
If you will fill out the parts of that planning form that pertain to you, then write in your own handwriting on the front of it, “These are my thoughts for my funeral…feel free to do whatever you need to do…I won’t be here, it’s just my body.” Something like that last sentence gives family permission to grieve and conduct themselves the way they need to at a difficult time.
I have one final recommendation regarding funeral planning, both for yourself and for your loved one. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for some practical, down to earth, emotion-free ideas regarding choosing a funeral home.
This can be a difficult conversation to have with yourself, and with your loved ones. Your chaplains have walked with others through these kinds of conversations and are willing to help you with it as well. Feel free to reach out to us when you are ready. And remember, Hope Is Not A Plan.