Take Charge of Your Future

Advance Directives

What you should know about preparing for your end-of-life care

Q: What should I do if family members don’t agree with the choices I’ve made?

A: Advance directives can often lessen, even avoid, quarrels — and perhaps bring your family together at a difficult time. If you think your family may be in disagreement with the choices you’ve made in your advance directives, you can take some extra steps to help quell any uproar.

Make sure you inform all family members, in writing, who you’ve appointed to act on your behalf and why. Make it clear that if any uncertainties arise in interpreting your living will, your health care proxy, and no one else, is to make final decisions. A copy of your directives should be given to each of your relatives, as well as to your physicians and health care proxy. If you are later admitted to a hospital or nursing home, they get one, too.

Read AARP financial expert Jonathan Pond's The Cornerstone of an Estate Plan to learn more.

Q: Do advance directives ever expire?

An advance directive doesn’t expire, but you should review it periodically to make sure it continues to reflect your wishes. Remembering what we call the 5-Ds can help you do that:

Decade. Review your documents at least once a decade.

Death of a loved one. If the person you chose as your health care agent dies, you need to appoint a new agent as soon as possible.

Divorce. If you’re separated or divorced, you might want to reconsider your choice of a health care agent.

Diagnosis. Certain diagnoses may prompt you to rethink the types of care you would want.

Decline. Sometimes, as your health worsens, you might begin to feel differently about end-of-life situations than you did when you were younger.

Q: Is it necessary to take my ex-spouse off my advance directives?

A: In most states, an ex-spouse’s authority over your affairs is automatically revoked once you divorce. In others, you have to specially revoke it. In any case, if you don’t want your ex-spouse making these decisions, it’s always best to create a new document.

Q: Do I need a “letter of instruction” if I have a will?

A: A letter of instruction doesn’t have the legal punch of a will, but it gives you the chance to explain informally what you want to happen should you die. It can help avoid the “who-gets-Grandma’s-china” quarrels that can erupt after a will is made public.

A letter of instruction has three parts: In part one, you state your preferences about planning a funeral and the names of people who should be contacted. Part two covers financial matters — a list of your bank accounts as well as phone numbers for your employer, insurance agent or broker. In part three, you list people to whom you want to give something special — mementos, photo albums, jewelry and so on. Keep a copy of your letter of instruction with your advance directives.

You may also like: Take Charge of Your Future

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