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Important Decisions: Financial and Health Care Planning

Death and dying are not topics we talk about easily in our culture. As a general rule, in fact, we avoid them, almost as if to talk about them would bring on a premature demise. As a result, many families are unaware of their loved one's wishes at the end of life and are faced with making difficult decisions. This can lead to family discord and can make a trying situation even harder than it already is.

Norene's father, Richard, showed caring and foresight in planning ahead. He thought about what "quality of life" meant to him. Reflecting on what made life worth living helped him to make decisions about life support issues. (It also helped Richard and his family maximize the things that gave him pleasure!) After clarifying his own values, Richard was able to write an advance directive, a document that stated his wishes concerning health care decisions in case he was unable to speak for himself. He talked with his family about his wishes and asked his eldest son to be his health care representative if a situation came up that was not covered in the advance directive. By planning ahead, Richard was able to lay the groundwork for things to unfold the way he would have wanted them to.

In addition to health care planning, Richard took steps to plan his finances. When he began to have difficulty getting to the bank, he gave his daughter Norene "durable power of attorney." He was able to continue making financial decisions on his own, but this simple document legally allowed Norene to step in and handle his affairs during those times when he was too ill to do so himself. Richard prepared documents stating his wishes for how his belongings were to be distributed. He was also mindful of the fact that medical expenses could eat up the resources he did have and leave very little for his wife to live on afterward. With some planning, Richard was able to protect his assets and safeguard his wife's security.

Not all patients are able to make these kinds of decisions ahead of time. Many need help from family members who can assure the patient that it's okay to talk about these things and, in fact, would be helpful for the family if they were discussed. Ideally, all of us adults would have documents stating our desires for the distribution of our belongings and the handling of our medical care at the end of life. After all, any one of us could get in an accident tomorrow! These decisions especially need to be made when a serious illness has been diagnosed, and the sooner the better while the patient still has the ability to think and communicate clearly. To help you, we have tips to start the conversation about planning. Although it can be awkward at first, families who do have these discussions fare a lot better emotionally at the end, not having to guess and knowing they are doing what their loved one wanted them to do.


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"It's so hard to make decisions for others. We were lucky that Daddy talked to us and put his wishes down on paper. When the time came, we knew exactly what he wanted. We were spared all the doubts my friends have gone through. Daddy really took care of us by planning ahead."