By Darlynn Morgan, Orange County Elder Lawyer

Nursing homes…

Assisted living centers…

At-home assistance…

These are all options for medical care when we age and can no longer care for ourselves alone.

But there is one more approach for medical care for those facing a terminal illness – hospice care.

More than just a place to receive medical care for terminally ill patients, hospice really describes an approach to medical care for patients nearing the end of life.

The prospect of facing a terminal illness can be truly daunting for both you and your family members.  Planning ahead for hospice care and making your wishes known can be one of the kindest things you can do for your family.

What Exactly Is Hospice Care?

Many people think of hospice as a place to go for care rather than a system of care.  Hospice is more a shift in treatment to keep the patient comfortable rather than trying to cure their terminal illness.

Hospice care can be administered at assisted living centers, in nursing homes, hospice centers, etc., but 80% to 90% of hospice services are provided in the patient’s home.  The technology is now available to allow health care professionals to treat the patient’s symptoms in the comfort of their own home.  Some of the services provided by hospice include:

–           Pain and symptom management

–           Drugs, medical supplies and equipment

–           Training for caregivers

–           Arrangements for respite care when the family caregiver needs to be away

–           Help with day-to-day chores and activities

–           Counsel with end of life decisions

–           Speech, physical and occupational therapy

And after the patient has died, hospice often offers counseling services to the loved ones left behind.

If I Choose Hospice Care, What Do I Need to Do?

If you elect to take advantage of hospice services, the kindest thing you can do for your family is to advise them of the decision.  Then you need to make sure your estate planning documents are in order so that if you reach a point where you can no longer make decisions, your affairs are arranged so that your family knows exactly what to do.

Some of the documents you need to have in place are:

–           Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Matters to give someone you trust legal authority to make decisions for you if you are no longer able to make them yourself.  It also allows them to tend to your financial affairs, such as paying bills, paying taxes, handling real estate transactions, if you are no longer able to do so.  If you fail to give someone authority to handle these matters and your health takes a sudden turn for the worse, you can lose access to valuable assets.

–           Advance Health Care Directive allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to do so.  You really need to have this document in place.  Just because you have been married for 60 years, your spouse does not automatically have this decision making power.  The law assumes that if you did not give this power to them, you did not want them to have it.  Failing to appoint someone to make medical decisions and not telling them exactly what those decisions should be can cause your loved ones a          great deal of undue stress, conflict and turmoil.

–           Current Wills and Trusts are vital to ensuring that your estate is handled exactly as you would like.  Make sure your will and any trust documents are up to date before you reach a point where you are no longer able to make decisions or make your wishes known.  For      example, what would happen if you were in hospice and your healthy spouse suddenly died.  If you have a will that leaves everything to your spouse in the event of your death,   you could have a problem and not be physically able to make the correction.  Make sure    your will is current as soon as you elect hospice care.

–           Make sure your property is titled correctly.  Review your property titles with a qualified estate planning attorney.  If the titles to your real estate holdings are not done properly, your loved ones could spend months going through a costly probate process.  It can also affect whether or not you can go into a nursing home if you can no longer be treated at home.

–           Long Term Care is a subject you will have to research to determine what is available in your state.  You may be eligible for benefits from federal or state programs.  You will need to talk to a qualified estate planning attorney to see what’s available in your area and start the application process.  Don’t try to go this alone.  Enlist the aid of someone familiar with the process and you’ll save time and aggravation.

Hospice care can make the prospect of facing a terminal illness easier for everyone involved, especially if you plan well ahead of time.  If you think you might want to take advantage of hospice care if or when the time comes, talk to your Orange county estate planning attorney and make sure you’ve laid the proper ground work.  Planning ahead so that your loved ones aren’t faced with these choices when they’re already dealing with your illness can be one of the kindest things you can do for them.

Call us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session today.  Our Family Wealth Planning Session is normally $750, but this month I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session with me at no charge.  Call today and mention this article.