COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family we're following up on the story I brought you last week about the importance of making end of life care decisions, well before you get close to the end of your life. But how do make sure your decisions are followed? That's where the correct legal documents come in.
Dr. Angela Poppe Ries, MD, MBA is the Medical Director at Pikes Peak Hospice in Colorado Springs. She says, “Advanced care planning can produce several documents and that's honestly what most people think about. Things like the medical power of attorney or a living will, and those things are important.”
Dr. Poppe Ries stresses having the documents is important, but not as important as making sure your loved ones also understand your end of life care wishes. “I actually think it's the conversation around the topic that is the most important part. If I appoint my husband my power of attorney but I've never explained to him what I want at the end, or what's important to me as my health changes he's going to struggle to figure out what's the best decision. That is why I recommend families bring this up, not when there's a crisis -- but as early as possible.”
The emotional nature of decisions when a loved one is dying is one of the biggest reasons why those legal documents should back up the wishes you have made clear to your family.
Dr. Poppe Reis says, “In a time of crisis none of us think clearly. We become emotional, we are upset so if one of our loved ones gets really sick it's hard to objectively think back to a conversation we may have had three years ago and say, ‘Oh, what did mom actually want?’ When you're in crisis you're panicked, your emotional, you're worried about your mother and you're worried about how you're going to react, and you're worried about what the future holds. In that situation it's hard to take that step back and say, ‘I'm honestly doing what my mom wanted.’ If you had that conversation recorded through something like an advance directive or a living will, you can state this is what mom wanted, I can be confident of it. It's still going to be a hard decision but there will be less anxiety and less fear and less second-guessing.”
When considering making decisions now about your end of life care instructions and medical directives, it's important to remember if you decide to avoid those decisions, they will be made one way or another. In Colorado the law says it may not be your spouse who gets to exclusively make the decisions for you.
Dr. Poppe Ries explains, “In the state of Colorado we do not have next of kin state laws and that means if you are legally married and your spouse happens to be in a car accident and someone needs to make decisions, you by virtue of being their spouse are not automatically their decision maker. Certain states have that law, Colorado is not one of them. Instead, Colorado is what’s called a proxy state which essentially means that if you are unable to make your decisions, then all of the interested parties - meaning your spouse, your children, your siblings, whoever may be involved has to get together and then decides who will be the spokesperson. Again, in a time of crisis when people can have very strong opinions and emotions, that's a hard place to navigate as a family. If you have already documented that you feel your sister can speak best to your wishes, and you've written that out on a medical power of attorney, that person now has the legal authority to make medical decisions for you, when you can't.”
If you would like to learn more information about end of life care decisions, and how to have those conversations with a loved one- Pikes Peak Hospice can help in that process. Feel free to give them a call.
Pikes Peak Hospice is a proud sponsor of Your Healthy Family.