Starting a conversation about your end-of-life wishes is difficult. It is a common experience that the people closest to us, family members and friends, do not want to talk about a situation that they would find unbearable.
However, at any time, any one of us could face a life-changing situation. And if we lose mental capacity and are unable to make decisions for ourselves, we would all want to be sure that our care and wellbeing was being guided and determined by someone we know well and trust.
Lasting Powers of Attorney are relevant for everyone, not just people who are experiencing life-limiting conditions such as dementia. None of us can predict when and if we might become ill very suddenly or sustain injuries from an accident. Since dementia is a slowly progressing condition, at the time of diagnosis and in the early months, a person can make choices and decisions.
It is vital to prepare for the future, to make it straight-forward for your relatives and friends – the people you trust – to take on the responsibilities of managing your money and making decisions about your care, informed by you.
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document. There are two types of LPA: an LPA for property and financial affairs and an LPA for health and welfare. By setting up LPAs, you can appoint one or more attorneys to make significant decisions when you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
You can find out more about setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney on the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney The cost to register an LPA is £82. The same cost applies to both an LPA for property and financial affairs and an LPA for health and welfare.
If you would like some help with setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, you might want to consider creating an Advance Care Plan (ACP) – a document that records your wishes and preferences about your future care, treatment options and end-of-life wishes.
An ACP is used to guide health and social care professionals to make decisions that are in your best interest, as determined by you. This is especially important if you are not able to communicate your wishes and preferences yourself. An ACP ensures that you still have a voice and that you continue to influence the type of care you receive, and the place in which you receive it.
An ACP also equips your family members with the information they need to represent your views to health professionals.
An Advance Care Plan is not a legally binding document (so you still need to put LPAs in place) but an ACP is a recognised document and it will be taken into account (if you lose mental capacity) when decisions need to be made about your care.
We all need to think about the future – what we would want if our health became compromised and we were no longer able to make choices for ourselves. These issues are important, whether or not we are facing health challenges now.
Mountbatten Hospice has come up with some useful suggestions for starting a conversation about advance care planning and end-of-life decision-making:
“Can we talk about what would happen if the times comes when I can no longer live on my own?”
“I’d like to tell you where I keep all my important documents”.
“Can I tell you my thoughts about life-sustaining treatment, should I become very ill or have a terrible accident?”
“Are you aware of my wishes regarding organ donation?”
“Can we talk about my funeral plans?”
Many people will share the sentiments of a conversation I had with a daughter-carer, whose mother had recently died: “We didn’t know what she wanted, we had never spoken about what would happen if she ended up critically ill, in hospital, in a life-threatening condition. We had to guess what her wishes might have been, and my brother and I disagreed. It created a lot of conflict and upset and bad feeling, and we are still dealing with the repercussions. I wish we had talked about it with her, when she was well and capable of telling us what she really would have wanted. It’s left me feeling very guilty and alone.”
One thing in life is certain: all of us will die. Take a first step today and start the conversation.