End of life discussions are never easy. But, the best way to avoid uncertainty and family disputes about what a person wants or does not want to happen after he or she becomes terminally ill or has passed away is to give your loved ones a letter of instruction or what I call the “roadmap” as soon as you can.
Some people do not want their loved ones to endure the heartbreak and cost of a terminal illness, like dementia. Although a medical power of attorney should be in place long before the onset of serious illness, the “roadmap” can let your loved ones as well as your doctors and lawyers know your specific wishes about end of life care.
If you cannot perform bodily functions or recognize close family members, do you want to continue receiving nourishment or just medication to keep you comfortable? Do you want to be moved to a long term care facility and remain there until your life ends? How do you feel about moving to a state which has end of life procedures after you receive a terminal diagnosis and still have the mental capacity to consent to treatment?
The “roadmap” can serve other purposes such as informing your loved ones about funeral arrangements, where important documents like wills, real estate deeds and mortgage records, life insurance policies, bank and investment records, income tax returns, bank boxes and keys to such boxes are located. Also, include your passwords to important accounts, bills, computers, cell phone and other things your loved one will need to close out. Names and telephone numbers identifying your doctors, lawyers, accountants, investment advisers and bankers can also be included in the “roadmap.”
The most persuasive “roadmap” is one that is handwritten, signed and dated if you are able to prepare it this way. While the “roadmap” may not be a legally binding document, giving it to your loved ones and professionals now will let them know what you hope they will do in the final days of your life. Of course, you may make updates and changes as needed.
It’s never too early to create this letter for your family. And it will serve as a gift by easing guilt and confusion in wondering what a loved one really wants. Be generous! Prepare a roadmap!