As we age, we make a lot of assumptions that often turn out to be false. Taking an honest look at these assumptions and taking action to ensure that our wishes are met is worth the effort!
First, let’s look at the stories we tell ourselves as we age:
- If I can’t make decisions for myself, my family knows me well enough to know exactly what I want.
- My family will manage my affairs just as I would.
- I’ve provided written instructions and my family will understand and follow those.
- My family is close and my children will work out their differences.
- My daughter/son is smart and fair and will be sure her siblings share in my wealth.
- Others will value the things I value.
- I have lots of time before anything will happen.
The last point is perhaps the most important: We always think we’ll “get old” 10 to 15 years from now… no matter our age! So now is the time to ensure that your instructions are not just written, but notarized and legally enforceable. Be sure to include not just instructions about your finances and material goods, but details about your healthcare preferences.
Often we are very careful about how we detail our financial directives, but assume that our family will somehow know and agree with our healthcare directives. Even if your closest family and friends know your wishes, when the time comes, they may be unsure about what decision to make. But if your healthcare directives are clear, you can relieve your family from this burden and empower healthcare providers to make recommendations based on your wishes.
It’s also important to think clearly about your family dynamics. If you have children that don’t all get along with each other, don’t tell yourself that they will magically bond when you become ill. In fact, the stress of the situation will likely exacerbate any differences. Ask yourself if it is fair to ask one of your children to take on the burden of managing your healthcare and finances at a time when they may be in grief or distress over your illness. Clear instructions and a neutral third party to administer your wishes can be the best gifts you leave for your family… and yourself.