Today is exactly one week before National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), April 16. The sole purpose of this grassroots initiative (now in its 5th year) is to encourage folks to do their own advance care planning.
This year to honor NHDD, I recommend we all lead by example. In other words, let’s start closer to home — with ourselves, our families, and our staff.
- Complete an advance directive.
Think you’re the only attorney in this field who doesn’t have one? Not so; you’re in surprisingly good company! But it’s time to practice what we preach. If you don’t have your advance directive yet, just do it. We all urge clients to create these documents because they’re so important, and it’s time we take our own advice!
- Make sure your immediate family all have advance directives.
I’ve talked with two estate planning attorneys who have personally experienced the HIPAA Horror Story: when their children were hospitalized while away at college, the emergency staff refused to tell each of them anything about their child by phone without a HIPAA Release (neither “young adult” child had one). It’s a parent’s nightmare. Yet, it’s easily preventable. As an attorney, you have the document access necessary to easily protect your family. Make sure that your spouse/significant other, your grown children, and your young adult children over 18 have all signed at least a HCPOA and a HIPAA Release.
- Protect your staff.
As you know, your clients appreciate that you got them to create their advance directives by automatically including them in your planning. Sometimes, your staff needs the same kind of push — to create the vital documents that they, too, might rather avoid thinking about. You’re in a unique position to help them protect themselves. Completing their own advance directives is also a good way for your staff to understand more about your firm’s services and to have a taste of your clients’ experience. Some firms actually strongly encourage all staff members to create their estate plans (courtesy of the firm) for this reason.
- Review existing directives.
So you, your family, your staff – everyone – has an advance directive. Great! But it’s not enough to just have them. They need to be kept relevant. Your firm has its own schedule of review for your clients’ documents; why not for yours, as well? Consider reviewing documents for yourself, family, and staff on the same schedule as your firm’s client review cycle. Additionally, Charlie Sabatino, J.D., Director of the ABA’s Commission on Law and Aging, suggests these “5 D’s” as triggers for review of the advance directive: Death of a family member or friend; Divorce; a significant Decline in one’s condition; a new Diagnosis; and each new Decade.
- Talk to Loved Ones about Your Wishes
I’ve blogged about this many times before: this step is just as important as writing directives. Talk about your wishes with your family once a year. NHDD (April 16) is a good time – it gives you a reason and place to begin the discussion. Thanksgiving can be an even better time, especially if most of your extended family is together. Regardless of the day you choose, let’s make sure we all talk about our wishes, and encourage others to do the same.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy pertaining to advance directives and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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