Carrie Schwab Pomerantz
(SET ITAL) Dear Carrie: I'm trying to help my parents who are in their late 60s with estate planning. They're OK talking about the financial part, but they're reluctant to deal with the possibility of a serious medical issue. They say they're not that old yet! How can I nudge them along? -- A Reader (END ITAL)

Dear Reader: With people living longer and healthier lives, it's not surprising that your parents are avoiding talking about the possibility of a serious medical issue. They'd probably rather plan their next trip. But now is exactly the time -- when they're clearheaded and feeling good -- that they should be thinking about it.

In fact, in my opinion, everyone -- even young adults -- should think about and document how he or she would want to handle a medical crisis. That's the only way to ensure others will make decisions that are in keeping with one's wishes.

START WITH AN ADVANCE HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE

I'd start by putting your wishes in writing with an advance health care directive. Getting the documents is the easy part. The hard part is thinking through your decisions before you commit them to paper. The questions on the form will help focus your thoughts, but it's important to be honest with yourself and discuss your feelings with your family before putting anything in writing.

You might help your parents start the thinking process by getting a copy of their state's form -- as well as one for yourself. You can download a state's specific advance directive from a number of websites such as www.caringinfo.org, or get it from your state's attorney general's office, or your doctor or hospital.

Each state has its own version of an advance health care directive (and it may go by a slightly different name) but, generally, it will include two parts:

--Instructions for health care: This lets you put in writing the type of treatment you do -- or don't -- want if you're facing a life-threatening crisis. For instance, do you want your doctors to use life-sustaining treatments regardless of the circumstances or potential outcome? By putting your wishes in writing, you're helping your family make very tough decisions on your behalf.

--A power of attorney for health care: This appoints someone -- a friend, family member, whomever you choose -- to make medical decisions for you if you can't speak for yourself. These decisions aren't necessarily just about the end of your life. They can be any type of medical decisions -- from medications to surgery. The key is that someone you trust will be your spokesperson and interact with medical personnel if you're unable to do so yourself.

Depending on the state, these may be two separate documents or they may be rolled into a single form.


Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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