Few have advance health care directives, despite known importance

From Medicaid to living wills, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who claimed planning for end-of-life care in New York isn't important. However, admitting an issue is imperative and actually taking steps to address it are two separate things. Despite the fact that elder law attorneys and others in the United States have been promoting advance health care directives for almost half a century, a recent study reveals that only approximately 30 percent of adults have one.

So what are advance health care directives, and why is having one so important? Advance directives, typically drawn up with the help of a lawyer who focuses on elder law issues, outline a variety of medical decisions in case an individual becomes incapacitated and unable to make his or her desires known. Without one, life or death decisions are left up to doctors or relatives who may not be aware of an individual's preferences.

One such type of document is known as a living will; living wills detail preferences regarding life-sustaining medical treatments like feeding tubes, ventilators and resuscitation. The other document that usually helps make up an advance health care directive is sometimes referred to as a health care power of attorney or as a health care proxy. This names a family member or loved one who will be in charge of making decisions regarding medical treatment when a specific situation arises that was not detailed in the living will.

Despite the undeniable benefits of advance health care directives, a review of 150 studies showed that approximately 50 percent of people over the age of 65 still have not completed these important legal documents. While the process can feel intimidating or overwhelming, there are professionals who concentrate their law practices on helping the elderly prepare for end-of-life planning. For aging individuals and their families who are uncertain how to begin the process, a New York attorney can offer knowledgeable guidance with living wills, health care powers of attorney, Medicaid planning and more.

Source: khn.org, "Many Still Sidestep End-Of-Life Care Planning, Study Finds", Michelle Andrews, Aug. 1, 2017

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