Powers of attorney can be set up for property as well as for personal care.  This post is specifically about personal care and the motivations to complete one.  As more choices become available for end-of-life care, documentation of your personal wishes becomes increasingly important.  Every once in a while a survey results are released indicating how many people have various legal documents such as a will.  I would be interested in survey results from  professionals (lawyers, wealth managers, accountants) who advise clients on estate-related matters if they have all their own legal documents prepared and current.  My guess – it’s the “shoemaker’s children” phenomenon and the number would be lower than the Canadian average.

Formalizing a living will or similar documentation that provides guidance on end of life care is often considered a way of reducing family conflict at the bedside.  However, a U.S. study1 found that less than 10% of the study participants saw this as a primary concern.   So, even if bedside arguments between siblings are not a problem – make sure you have this in place:

  1. My wishes are understood and acted upon – losing decision-making abilities at end of life are a primary concern of most people;
  2. My life is not extended when it is futile to do so, or, my treatment is not withdrawn when I would prefer it continued.

Those who had witnessed a difficult death due to factors such as significant pain or poor patient-doctor communications were less likely to follow through and complete their own legal documentation.  It seems counter-intuitive that the individual wouldn’t want to protect themselves from a similar experience by putting the paper-work in place.  The trauma from witnessing a difficult death or the lack of understanding of the power of advance planning may result in the decision to avoid end of life planning.  Instead it was those who witnessed a death that followed the legal directions of the individual who were more likely to put their own paperwork in order.

The role of a professional advisor can be key in overcoming resistance to this process.   Making this a tick-box exercise is not sufficient.  Approach this as a conversation.  Probe past experiences such as experiences with a difficult death situation where the document was or was not in place.  Conversely ask them if they have seen situations where the legal documentation was helpful.  This conversation will likely reveal areas of concern, fear or misunderstanding.  The advisor can then address each concern directly and gain the client’s involvement in building a documented plan.

Regardless of age or health status, power of attorney documents need to be written or updated.  Make the process a true dialogue – ask your advisor about their own diligence in creating an end-of-life plan!  You will probably find that you share much in common.

  1. Deborah Carr (2012).  I don’t want to die like that…the impact of significant others’ death care quality on advance care planning. The Gerontologist, 52(6), pp 770-781.