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Choosing those to execute advance directives/living wills

Here's a conversation starter ... do you want to rest the quality of your life, dignity and final life choices in the hands of two people who despise one another?

That may sound like an odd question, however, this is an issue I am seeing more and more.

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I recently spoke to a group of educators about the importance of advance directives/living wills and presented "Five Wishes," a simple and user-friendly document in which to make your wishes known. The number of people who don't have any directions for their loved ones to follow should they be unable to communicate their wishes is alarming.

Now back to the original question, whom do you want to name to be in charge of your finances should you be unable to act on your own behalf? And whom do you want to make medical decisions on your behalf? Many people can easily say I would want this child or that sibling to take care of my personal matters but I caution everyone to take a deeper look.

The people you name to honor your wishes and take care of your financial matters had better be up for the job. Let me give you some examples. The person guarding your money and writing the checks should be fiscally responsible and a good steward of your resources. Here's the thing, think long and hard about this decision because ultimately the purse strings determine the care you will receive should you need it if you are ill or have a disease process which leaves you with little control to act on your own behalf.

The person designated to carry out your health care wishes must be able to follow your written instructions, i.e., the living will, and act to respect and honor those wishes without influence from others or their own personal judgments or emotions.

The people you choose for these important jobs can be one and the same or two different people. However, more than two people is a living nightmare. I have seen in an attempt to be "fair" parents of a family of four, five or even nine leave their decisions to all the children. We could have a discussion on the merits of herding cats in a time of crisis, which should leave you with a picture of utter chaos. Simply put ... don't do it. Choose your designee(s) wisely. Have a conversation with those you are considering and let them know that you would like them to perform this role. Give them the opportunity to decline if they feel that they may not be up to the task.

Finally, before making the decision on whom to name as your decision-makers consider that question, do you want to rest the quality of your life, dignity and final life choices in the hands of two people who despise one another? Yes, I have had clients' appointees actually use the word hate to describe how they feel about one another. Would you really think that it's a wise idea to name your child to execute your wishes for health care and her ex-husband attorney to execute handling of the finances? Oh, and by the way, they do not speak. Yes, true story.

Who is not going to be the recipient of a smooth and coordinated effort to provide you with quality of life, dignity and the best transition out of your life? You! Remember you ultimately live and die with the consequences of your decisions. Pick two people who can work together and communicate. Or pick one person for both if they are responsible and trustworthy.

If you have not already written your wishes to guide your family and essentially take the pressure off of them, all of these decisions may seem overwhelming and you might even throw your hands in the air and say, "I'll let them figure it out."

Terrible decision! Think of the way you would want to be cared for in the event that you have little to no control over it and how you would want things handled and then think about the total opposite of that and chances are you will end up with a less-than-desired scenario.

If you have already made your wishes known through power of attorney papers, advance directive and living will, please take this time to review and update them. I recently changed all of my directives based on what I've seen in my world of working with clients with various health issues and dementia. I have added a section on what quality of life means to me and specifically my desire should I have dementia.

Throwing your wishes to the wind will not offer you any control over the future and the unforeseen. And, finally, think of the bossiest most controlling person in your life and yes, indeed, you better like the choices they will make for you because they will step to the front of the line to take control of your life if you haven't spelled it out.

Now get out there and make a plan!

Law Day is May 1 and by appointment only you can create a living will with an attorney at the Westminster Senior Center.

Five Wishes is available through www.agingwithdignity.org.

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The attorney general's office provides a free advance directive at www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov.

Jill Rosner is a registered nurse, certified geriatric care manager and owner of Rosner Healthcare Navigation. She provides patient advocacy and care management services to clients with health and aging issues. Contact her at JillRosnerRN@aol.com.

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