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End-of-Life Planning

Planning now for the end of life—no matter what your health status may be—helps ensure that your wishes are followed. For many, this brings peace of mind and a sense of control. It also takes the burden off loved ones, because they don’t have to guess what you would want.

Even though there are many benefits to planning ahead, talking about death can be difficult. It’s important to remember that thinking and talking about dying does not mean that you will face death sooner. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you want to die. Even the healthiest people should establish an end-of-life plan. Doing so simply acknowledges the reality that we all die and gives you a chance to have as much control over this reality as possible.

Here are some suggestions for where to start:

Step 1: Consider what you want

Give yourself time to think about how you would like to die if you become very sick. For example, would you want to die at home? At what point would you want to stop extraordinary measures to save you? Loved ones and caregivers typically want what is best for the patient, but these people may suggest something different than what you want. That’s why it’s important to make your wishes known. Rest assured that you can change any legal documents as long as you are physically and mentally healthy enough to communicate.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with key terms and state legal requirements

There are several terms and services that you’ll want to learn about so that you can access the best resources. For example, palliative care, including hospice care, helps dying people spend their final days in the most comfortable and dignified state possible.

You’ll want to learn about advance directives, living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, and health care proxies. These documents allow you to clarify your wishes and name the person you want to act on your behalf if you are unable to communicate. Keep in mind that end-of-life laws and required documents are different in each state. If you have end-of-life documents prepared, but you move to another state, please check with your new health care provider about the state's legal requirements.

These resources can get you started:

  • http://www.putitinwriting.org (American Hospital Association)

  • http://www.caringinfo.org (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization)

Step 3: Ask experts for help

Your health care team has treated many patients, and they know about the types of health issues people face as their conditions progress. They can help guide you through the types of issues you will want to consider. A social worker is a good resource, too. Experts in end-of-life planning also can help you figure out the best way to talk with loved ones about these important issues.