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Study: Less than half of Americans have plans for end-of-life care

There's no question that many people find the subject of their own mortality rather uncomfortable. Indeed, it's the reason why so many are loath to make doctor's appointments, buy life insurance and, of course, execute the necessary estate planning documents.

Indeed, a recently published study reveals that it's not just wills and trusts that are being neglected, but also important documents dictating the type of medical treatment to be provided in the event of incapacity.

For those unfamiliar with this topic, there are essentially two types of documents people can execute in this area:

  • Living will: Sets forth a person's specific preferences for life-sustaining medical care (feeding tube, ventilators, etc.)
  • Health care proxy/health care power of attorney: Appoints a trusted individual to make medical decisions on a person's behalf should they become unable to do so owing to a health-related emergency

Published in the July issue of the journal Health Affairs, the aforementioned study involved researchers gathering the results of 150 other studies, all of which examined end-of-life care planning among U.S. adults, and were undertaken between 2011 and 2016.

After examining this combined data pool of nearly 800,000 people, the researchers determined the following:

  • Only 37 percent had undertaken any end-of-life care planning
  • 46 percent of older people (i.e., older than 65) were likely to have undertaken end-of-life care planning versus 32 percent of their younger counterparts
  • 38 percent of people with chronic illnesses were likely to have undertaken end-of-life care planning versus 33 percent of those in good health

As for the reason why so many are so reluctant to execute these essential documents, the authors theorize that it could perhaps be attributed to what people perceive as their definitive nature.

"Many people don't sign advance directives because they worry they're not going to get any care if they say they don't want [cardiopulmonary resuscitation]," said the primary author. "It becomes this very scary document that says, 'Let me die.'"

The reality, however, is that in addition to providing you and your loved ones with peace of mind during emotionally turbulent times, health care proxies and living wills can be revised at any time to reflect changes in circumstances or shifts in preferences.

Have you executed a living will and/or health care proxy? If so, what were your reasons? If not, what's holding you back?

If you would like to learn more about living wills, advance directives or estate planning in general, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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