Whether you’re medical, will or estate planning –
“getting your affairs in order” can feel overwhelming.
Who wants to plan for the end of their life, anyway? Especially when it seems you have so much life to live. But, we all know this – we don’t want to leave those we love with the stress and disagreements that can come when we don’t plan. And the reality is, young or old, healthy or not, your health can change unexpectedly at any moment. So, we put together this resource to help Howard County residents like you get your affairs in order. That way, you can relax knowing everything is taken care of – for you and your loved ones.
Don’t do it alone. Pick your health care agent.
You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) do this alone. We recommend the first step you take when getting your affairs in order is to choose your health care agent. What is a health care agent? Good question. It’s the person assigned to make medical decisions for you based on your preferences if for some reason you can’t speak for yourself. Sometimes a health care agent is also referred to as a health care proxy, medical proxy or medical power of attorney – all of those terms mean the same thing. Choosing this person is a surefire way to remain in control of your medical care and help your loved ones avoid conflict.
We recommend this as the first step because it can be helpful to include your health care agent in the remaining steps to make sure they know your preferences and what other plans you have.
And don’t worry – you can always change this person as time goes on and your life and relationships change.
Tip: You need to make your health care agent official – that’s the only way to make sure that person you trust will be authorized to talk with doctors about your care. We recommend using the free online tool, MyDirectives, to name your agent. It’s easy (you can name your agent online in minutes), and makes your health care agent decision available to all Maryland doctors and hospitals.
Alternatively, you can download the paper form to name your health care agent. If you go this route, you’ll need two witnesses present to sign. Even if you use the paper form, your next step should be to upload it to MyDirectives so that local doctors and hospitals can access it.
Think through the kind of care you’d like to receive
Medical care isn’t one size fits all, so it’s important to think through the kind of care you’d like and share your preferences with loved ones and doctors. For example, are you concerned about not getting enough treatment, or worried about overly aggressive treatment? Is being at home important to you, or would you prefer to be in a hospital or medical setting?
Only you can answer these questions and there is no right or wrong. But, knowing (and sharing) your preferences for care is a critical step. We worked with The Conversation Project to put together these 6 questions that help you think through the approach that’s right for you. After you gather your thoughts, they are only helpful if you share them with others – most importantly, your health care agent. You can use the 6 Question Tool to email your answers to your health care agent or print them and talk them through with that person over lunch, a walk, or whatever works best.
Tip: Having a hard time initiating that chat with your health care agent? This conversation starter kit is a great resource.
Consider completing a living will
A living will lists the details of the specific type of treatment you want if you are in specific end-of-life situations (for example, you are in a coma and the doctors do not expect that you will wake up). Living wills state treatment preferences such as if you would like machines to help you breathe, or if you would like pain management.
MyDirectives also allows you to complete a living will for free (what they call a “full advance directive”) and ensure local doctors and hospitals can access your preferences. Their site also lets you state preferences on attempts at CPR (similar to Do Not Resuscitate Orders) and wishes in regards to organ donation and autopsy. Get started at MyDirectives. You’ll just need to enter your name, date of birth, and email to create an account.
You can also fill out Maryland’s free paper living will form (begin on page 5). Again, we recommend uploading it to MyDirectives to ensure local doctors and hospitals can access it.
Consider speaking to an attorney
Even though you can complete steps one through three on your own and there is no legal requirement to have an estate planning attorney, we find that some residents consider an attorney’s help useful in making sure all concerns are addressed and recorded in the right place. Attorneys can help you:
- Execute your last will and testament (lets you determine what happens with your assets)
- Name a financial power of attorney (allows you to name the person who you want to manage your finances if you cannot)
- Designate guardian of children
- Arrange for the care of your pets
- And other estate planning needs
The Howard County Estate Planning Council is a good place to start you search. You can use their directory to find the right local attorney to help you complete any of the tasks above.
Prefer to do it yourself? Here are all the free forms you’ll need:
- Last will and testament
- Financial power of attorney
- Guardianship of children
- Asset ownership
- Pet care
Now that you have your health care agent named, your care and treatment preferences decided and your legal documents in place, it’s important to:
- Have your documents (both on and offline) organized
- Ensure your health care agent knows where to find and access these documents if and when they need to.
Here is a helpful checklist to help you get organized. You can even share this list with your loved ones so they have everything they need in one place. And if you named your health care agent through MyDirectives, you’re one step closer to getting the people you trust the information they need to make the right decisions for you.
What's Speak(easy) Howard?
The Speak(easy) Howard campaign is a Howard County initiative that helps residents think through their preferences for care, talk about them with loved ones, and name a health care agent, the person you choose to make medical decisions if you can't. The Horizon Foundation is leading the campaign along with many community partners.Read More