They say the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes.
So it’s fitting that National Healthcare Decisions Day, which was Saturday, falls the day after Tax Day.
Now in its ninth year, National Healthcare Decisions Day encourages the young and old to talk about their end-of-life wishes and put those wishes in writing.
An advance directive for health care is a document that outlines what life-prolonging treatments, if any, you desire in case you are unable to speak for yourself. These treatments may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation, artificial respirators, feeding tubes and intravenous rehydration.
The document also appoints someone you trust as your proxy to speak on your behalf if you are incapacitated. This person will be able to make health-care decisions based on how well they know you with regard to anything not covered in your advance directive. Further, you can nominate a person to be appointed your legal guardian should a court ever determine you are in need of one.
Advance directives also may address issues including organ donation, whole-body donation to medical schools, funeral and burial arrangements.
According to a recent article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 26 percent of people have advance directives for health care.
The study found that most people who did not have an advance directive did not know that they existed, which highlights the importance of National Healthcare Decisions Day. The study found that older people or people with chronic diseases were more likely to have an advance directive, which illustrates the tendency for people to consider this option as death approaches.
Another recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that more than 60 percent of individuals age 18 years and older want their end-of-life wishes to be respected. But only about a third of them had completed advance directives.
The study found that while people had given thought to the question of end-of-life care, a majority had not completed the forms. Similar to the study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, about a quarter of those who did not have advance directives said they did not know about them. Others felt they were too young or healthy to complete them.
However, as the theme of this year’s National Healthcare Decisions Day points out, "It always seems too early, until it’s too late." Death or an incapacitating illness is unpredictable and could come at any time.
Finally, we would like to highlight that some people in the American Journal of Public Health study did not have advance directives because they were concerned about the cost, complexity or time that might be required to create one. As with many things in life, the cost, complexity and time of not having an advance directive far outweigh the relatively little cost and time of setting one up.
A qualified estate-planning attorney can help you set up your own advance directive. These documents do not expire, but it is recommended that you update them every couple of years for peace of mind. You will want to make sure that the person whom you designated as your proxy is still the best choice, and your family will want to know that your directive still reflects your current wishes.
Barid and Smith are co-founders of Savannah-based Smith Barid LLC, which focuses on estate planning, elder law and special-needs planning. They can be reached at 912-352-3999 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.