PB Law Blog... Trusts and Stuff

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Finding Direction When Facing a Terminal Diagnosis

When you or someone you love is told time is limited, your entire world can turn upside-down. Dealing with practicalities can serve as a recognizable path, giving you grounding during a time when everything feels out of control. Here are some basic arrangements to consider that can help you find direction when facing a terminal diagnosis.   

Consider Medical Care

There are often several medical decisions to consider regarding preferences and guidelines. By tackling them while still able, you alleviate the stress that can come from leaving them until later, or from being unable to make the decisions yourself.  

One of the biggest decisions to make relates to medical care during the remaining time. When someone’s doctor believes they have six to nine months to live, that person could enter hospice care. As Verywell Health explains, hospice differs from curative treatments in that it focuses on quality of life, also called palliative care. Curative treatments are generally more aggressive and could involve things like surgeries, dialysis, and chemotherapy. This typically means more pain, and it can have many stressful side effects. 

The Hospice Team Approach 

Hospice provides an interdisciplinary team of professionals to assist you and your family with the remaining time. This would include people such as doctors, nurses, aides, spiritual caregivers, therapists, and social workers.  

The hospice doctor specializes in palliative care and can look for ways to optimize comfort. These doctors focus primarily on symptom relief and alleviating pain, allowing the patient to make the most of what time remains. This doctor will not necessarily replace the personal physician; both often work together on the hospice team. 

The hospice social worker plays a significant role, coordinating the team and ensuring the patient’s and family members’ needs are understood and met. These professionals are uniquely qualified, as they often have a Master of Social Work degree from an accredited institution. They also must complete at least 20 continuing education units in hospice and palliative care to specialize in their role. In addition to coordinating care and communication, the social worker can also help with paperwork and help to arrange grief counseling for survivors. 

Advance Directives

Your medical care is something you can make decisions about right now, but what about later? There are legal arrangements that can be made relating to medical decisions. These are called advance directives, and they specify your personal preferences while you are still able to do so. 

One of the more common advance directives is called a healthcare power of attorney. This document names a person to make medical decisions on your behalf. This should be someone you trust who knows what you would want. It’s generally advisable to name a second choice as well, in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to make those decisions.

The second common advance directive is called a living will. The living will expresses which actions you prefer medical personnel take to sustain life in the event you are no longer able to make those choices. This document removes decision-making from others. 

Some people prefer the flexibility of a healthcare power of attorney, and some prefer the structure of a living will. Neither is better than the other, but by establishing guidelines while you can, you ease your mind and potentially remove stress from others. 

Other Legal Documentation

As the Chicago Tribune explains, there are other legal documents that should be in place when someone’s time is limited. For instance, a durable power of attorney determines who can make financial decisions on your behalf, and a last will and testament determines where your belongings will go after you pass. An estate planning attorney can guide you through these documents and ensure they meet proper legal requirements in your location.

Receiving the news of a terminal condition is devastating. Learning more about healthcare decisions and making specific arrangements can provide peace of mind, and avoid stress later on. If you or someone you love has limited remaining time, these basic steps can help you find some direction and reduce that out of control sensation.  

By: Guest Blogger, Craig Meadows

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