Let us talk about the elephant in the room. The one topic that cannot be imagined or easily discussed, for understandable reasons. We believe there are decades to ponder those final days. We think, “I am in great health, and could not possibly die soon.” Yet, the toughest question of all is, how can we leave important decisions to those who may not be strong enough to be our voice? The answer for each of us is to have a written document in place for the protection of our loved ones, especially our spouse and children.
Advanced Healthcare Planning
No one expects to be in a situation where a loved one is rushed to a hospital or dying of a terminal illness. Soberly, the question becomes, “Who will speak and choose care when a loved one is unable to?” While it may be difficult to face the knowledge of losing a loved one, it is a kindness not to be burdened with the ultimate end-of-life decision to either “resuscitate,” or “do not resuscitate” (“DNR”).
North Carolina respects each patient’s right to a natural and peaceful death. With a notarized document through the “Advanced Directives Registry,” each of us can plan our own care by naming an advocate: a person who will act as our personal health care power of attorney, and make decisions based on our wishes. With a document of “directives” in place, it allows family and friends to focus on the last moments with their loved one.
The hardest step is encouraging your aging parents, spouse, and children 18 years and older to sit down and fill out the document. (A notary and witnesses must be present to make the document legal.) The conversation can start with: “Can we talk about how you would want to be cared for in the event of sickness?” and “I would feel better if I knew how to support your choices.”
The Advance Directives document can be found at www.caringinfo.org, a National Hospice and Palliative care website.
The Importance of Having a Will
Seventy percent of Americans die without properly making legal arrangements for their family, their estate and property, and finances. Without a will and the forethought to name an executor to handle final wishes, the family may incur great expenses through the judgment of the court. In the state of North Carolina, a person who dies without a will is termed “intestate.” The law states that in that case assets will be given to the spouse, depending on the number of children, and the distribution of personal property will be made based on its value.
The greatest benefit of creating a will is having a peace of mind that the following wishes will be taken care of:
- A trusted individual will be named as Executor of the estate to undertake all decisions, from burial arrangements to care for children and pets, as well as handling bills, until the estate and finances are finalized.
- The administering of your will regarding who will receive specific items or assets, such as family heirlooms, a business or house, as well as appropriating a designated amount of monies to members of the family.
- The administering of your will regarding whether children are to be placed in the hands of a trusted guardian, and the setting aside of funds to ensure they receive financial care and support.
- The administering of your will regarding whether a “testamentary trust” should be created to hold the property for another’s benefit.
- While North Carolina recognizes a handwritten will, termed “holographic,” and a “nuncupative,” or oral will, based on strict criteria, the changing, if necessary, of such a will through administration to represent your altered interests and wishes.
Dave Ramsey, a spokesman who advocates tips for money management, says one of the best things he has done for his family is creating a “Legacy Drawer” within his home. Easily accessible, it contains extensive letters of instruction to know where to find legal documents such as a full will and estate plan, all investments, and copies of insurance. Ramsey advises families not to keep final wishes secret, but discuss plans openly, even with teenage children. In the sadness of death, advanced care planning and a will can provide comfort to those leaving this world, and offer complete security and knowledge that everything will be okay.