RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Few people are comfortable talking about death. Especially with a loved one who is aging or very sick.
In 1998 we saw the family of Terry Schiavo, a Florida woman, fight over whether she should live or die in a vegetative state.
And even with all that back and forth — most people don’t create living wills.
In fact, Pew research studies found only 29% of people have a living will. Schiavo did not have one.
Melanie Lee helps people prepare for the inevitable – death.
As a will and estate planning attorney, Lee encourages her clients to talk about something that we’re all uncomfortable discussing: How do you want to die?
“Often people feel it’s morbid,” says Lee. “They don’t want to think about it.”
But Lee says you have to think about and plan for it.
She says she learned from personal experience when her father died in 2002.
She says he made his wishes clear to his family and doctors.
“So we didn’t have to worry about that and that we were making the right decision,” says Lee.
Lee and VCU Oncologist Dr. Laurie Lyckholm say creating a living will or medical directive helps your family make the right decisions and speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself.
And both women say it can help you prevent family conflicts.
“Then mom gets sick and everyone is at each other’s throats,” says Lee.
“They’re not talking about what that person wants, they’re talking about what they want. That’s really the worst,” says Dr. Lyckholm.
Dr. Lyckholm says the best time to have the conversation is before someone gets really sick.
“But if someone is getting ill, they’re starting to get chronic illnesses, they’re starting to go to the hospital a little more often because of chronic medical problems.definitely that’s when they should be having those discussions,” says Dr. Lyckholm.
After talking to your loved one, it’s important to document your wishes.
Lee says you don’t need a lawyer to do it. There are websites that can get you started.
Her advice is not to procrastinate.
“We have the right to stipulate what are our wishes regarding end of life measures. How does anyone know that’s what you want if you don’t tell your family. If you don’t talk or share that story,” says Lee.
- Virginia Department for the Aging: http://www.vda.virginia.gov
- Creating an Advance Health Care Directive: http://www.vda.virginia.gov/advmedir.asp
- Melanie Lee, Lee Law Office: http://www.mleelaw.com/
National Healthcare Decisions day is April 16th, a day to educate people about advance care planning. http://www.nhdd.org/