Have you had some type of a family meeting where you’ve openly discussed your wishes, plans, and preferences for not only your future medical treatment but also, what happens to things like your assets or children in your absence? If you haven’t done this, make it a resolution for this year! You can begin your advance medical care planning with the helpful information found on Plan Well guide, so you can start to organize your affairs.
Part of advance medical care planning is formally naming the person who will make decisions for you if you become incapacitated or die. This is something that can be referenced differently across various provinces or states, but a common term you’ll hear for this is ‘Power of Attorney for Health Care’ (if you’d like to learn more about these terms click here for additional information).
Another part of advance medical care planning involves meeting with a lawyer, to draft up these documents. You should also consider engaging a lawyer to draw up your last will and testament. In Canada, if you die without a will, your assets are distributed according to the laws of the province in which you resided, using a set formula to allocate your estate to your spouse, children or other relatives, which could be different from what you really wanted. Not only do you lose control but there are extra costs associated with having the government dispersing your assets. To avoid this, it’s a great idea to have a legal document known as a “Will” that reflects your wishes on how your estate is managed after your death.
However, despite how important it is to do this, a recent poll from Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank, revealed that half of Canadians don’t have a will. Of this, almost 30 per cent of those who lack a will are between the ages of 53 and 71, an age range when people may have accumulated significant assets. To make matters worse, 39 per cent of these older Canadians have not discussed estate planning wishes with their children. The consequence of having no will or inadequate planning and communication related to the contents of the will can result in conflict. Speak to a lawyer who is involved in estate planning and they can provide numerous examples of survivors going to court to contest a will, and consequently, the financial estate is eroded due to legal costs. This doesn’t account for the impact it often has on family relationships being affected if not destroyed. The TD survey referenced above also found that one in five (19 per cent) Canadians who received a family inheritance say they experienced conflict with their siblings and other relatives over the division of those assets, with two in five (41 per cent) saying they considered taking a smaller share of the inheritance to maintain family harmony. Having a large cash inheritance, a family-run business, and family property, such as a cottage, should be red flags that require careful planning and upfront communication.
My advice to you reading this now is that I strongly recommend you see a lawyer to develop a last will and testament. I also encourage you to convene a family meeting with those named in your legal documents to explain your wishes and preferences for medical care and explain to them what will happen to your assets. By doing this you will better enable them to fulfill your wishes, ultimately reducing potential stress and avoiding future conflict. Make your resolution today, go make your medical and legal plans and discuss them with your family.
When seeing your lawyer to do your will, estate planning, and power of attorney, be careful not to engage your lawyer in advance medical care planning. While it may be important to have this document which names the person to make decisions for you in the event you are not capable, do not make medical decisions with your lawyer that get embedded into these legal documents. Legally and clinically speaking, to make medical decisions, you have to be fully informed about the risks, benefits, options and possible outcomes of medical treatments in a given scenario before your input has any validity. For you to sit in your lawyer’s office (or at home at your kitchen table) and provide a list of instructions about what health care you do or do not want makes no sense and violates these laws regarding health care decision-making. Since we cannot anticipate the myriad of future medical situations that might arise, it is more important that people document their values and preferences that can be articulated, by themselves or their substitutes, when that illness strikes, and medical decisions need to be made. These values and preferences are best documented on the ‘Dear Doctor’ Letter found on Plan Well guide. Doctors will then engage the person or their agent to make informed decisions, based on these values and preferences.
For more information on this topic, check out the earlier blog post where I discussed this in more detail.