Priceless, Free Gifts: Our Directives for Family Advocates

More thoughts based on our May 22nd Planet Longevity post – summer as the perfect time where our family advocates have more time to be together to have open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics.
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Directives for family advocates

As we go through the normal stages of life, two of the biggest gifts we can give those we love, are to document, and then to communicate key personal information to important people in our life. This allows them to act on our behalf quickly in an emergency, to prevent disagreement among family members and to enable our wishes to be carried out. It makes things easier for others, but it is also respectful of ourselves.

Three areas of key information – basic things to keep up-to-date and communicate on are: the location of documents/financial information, a record of our health issues, and our views on death and dying.

Timely access matters

Documents include such things as – our powers of attorney for care, and finances, our will, deeds, and a list of important advisors along with a list of financial investments and accounts. Timely access to these means that if we can’t act for ourselves, our designated person can. In the digital age even though we keep our information up-to-date it does no good if the files can’t be accessed. Keeping a hard copy of information in an accessible, perhaps locked and fireproof document case is wise.

The record of health issues includes having a list of medications and contact information for doctors. This is especially important in an emergency, as our health system is not seamlessly connected and the information and timeliness can mean life or death. A family member may need to advocate for us or be asked questions about our health at a time when we are unable to provide the information.

Views on end-of-life care and the degree of intervention desired are personal choices. Legal and medical options available and, our own preferences, may change over time. It’s important to communicate our wishes to those who may be making decisions if we are not capable.

Increase comfort levels for family discussion

The challenge is that in a family there are often differing values and views on such a personal issue. It can be especially helpful to have a family discussion ahead of time where everyone hears the same message regarding your wishes. It can decrease family strife and increase their comfort with difficult decisions if they know our view.

Documenting and communicating is a critical piece of this on-going process. Advisors, health issues and our views on end-of-life care may change over time. It takes discipline to make this a priority, but our loved ones will thank us for it, and they will have the means to carry out our wishes.


Lorraine Clemes

Empowered end of life care, to die with dignity.

One of the many opportunities of longevity is that we now have a more extended lifetime to make incremental life-stage decisions, including the choice to make our individual end of life plans. Despite this opportunity, most of us are reluctant to, or do not like to think about the eventuality of own death. If we do think about dying, we just cross our fingers and hope we will die asleep in own bed; or maybe somewhere else, comfortable, pain free, with dignity surrounded by loving family members.

Baby Boomers who have re-framed most cultural aspect of their lives from birth to retirement and everything in between are surprisingly slow to take the steps which would empower them to have more control of their preferred end of life care. Making personal care decisions and putting them in writing is a loving act of kindness to ourselves and for our appointed decision makers, but that planning takes time and thought.

At a very basic level of thoughtful concern – in Canada, a Power of Attorney for Property (both limited and general), Power of Attorney for Personal Care which are legal documents, and an Advance Directive (sometimes called a Living Will) which is a statement of preferred wishes, are tools to help people stay in control when they cannot speak for themselves. Each of the provinces and territories have their own style for these documents.

Advice from a lawyer and discussing decisions with your chosen executor make these directives more effective. The Ontario government has a booklet on-line A Guide to Advances Care Planning. Another source for information is Dying with Dignity, an organization founded in 1982. They offer an on line Advances Care Planning kit. Their web site has information on Canada’s right to die laws and information on assisted dying sometimes called End of Life Choices. This organization may not represent everyone’s idea of an end of life philosophy; but it does at least bring the term “dying with dignity” to public attention.
Take time to stay in charge, empowering end of life care and dying with dignity. Longevity is a gift – use it well.

Mary Ellen Tomlinson