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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least 39.8 million Americans are caring for someone over 65.  Many of my clients have spent hours agonizing over whether they are making the best decisions regarding a family member’s care.

If you have been appointed Health Care Power of Attorney for someone it is important to have an honest discussion with your loved one about how they want to spend their last days.  This is only the first step.  It’s also critical to know whether their healthcare providers are willing to act on the instructions they are given.   An article published in Time Magazine this summer, The Long Goodbye, chronicles author Joe’s Klein’s experience as health care advocate in his parent’s last days and what he learned about the system.

I was made aware of the article by a client who had just dealt with his mother’s passing.  He also learned firsthand how frustrating it is to navigate our healthcare system.  His mother’s desire was to die peacefully but her doctor’s financial incentive was to keep her alive for at least 30 days.  Her Do Not Resuscitate order was ignored four times.  It was not until he ran into a friend who is an attorney that he learned Hospice could act as an intermediary between himself and the medical staff.  They were able to communicate his mother’s wishes for her end of life care, ensure they were enacted, and ease his family’s burden of battling with the hospital.

Although no one wants their family to experience this situation, only 56% of people have communicated their end of life wishes, according to a 2012 survey by the California HealthCare Foundation. If you need help starting the conversation, a great resource is theconversationproject.org.  Ellen Goodman, cofounder of The Conversation Project commented that “these conversations produce rich moments of emotional connection.  They bring us closer together.  What’s more, people who have them tend to choose less aggressive care and leave their survivors less regretful and depressed.”  As we approach the holidays and spend more time with family, it is a perfect opportunity to let them know your wishes or find out theirs–a wonderful gift for everyone.