Helping Families Today, Tomorrow & for the Future Generations – Part 1

/ December 10, 2014

Blank Notepad & Cup of Coffee - iStockAs trusted advisors, attorneys and financial advisors, you are uniquely poised to coach individuals and families on the merits of preparing thoughtfully for end-of-life decisions. Most likely, posing questions regarding a client’s financial assets and estate intentions is part of your everyday practice.

But ask yourself: Are you comfortable engaging clients in deep, probing conversation in order to inspire a well-written healthcare directive?

In fact, this conversation doesn’t come naturally for many advisors. An estate attorney once shared with me, “My tax expertise really helps my clients preserve wealth. However, I’m uncomfortable talking about relationship issues. Family dynamics can be very messy.”

Families often devote tremendous energy to develop an estate plan that protects financial assets. However, statistics indicate that healthcare directives typically do not receive comparable attention.

Yet, an effective healthcare directive can be instrumental in preserving family relationships.  

And you can play a vital role…In a crisis, raw emotions amplify complex family dynamics. By guiding your clients to prepare thoughtfully for future healthcare decisions, you can minimize conflict and foster family unity through the end-of-life journey and loss of a loved one.

Although the planning conversations might be awkward or even tense at times, your relationship with your clients will most certainly grow deeper. Demonstrating your care for you client’s family members will be remembered. And here’s an incredible benefit for your practice—you might pick up the next generation as new clients.

Anne and her Mother CarolEven while I was wrestling with my own mortality in preparing a will a few years ago, our family was struggling through the final years of my mother’s twenty-year journey of living with Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s began in her late fifties. In every other way, throughout the journey, Mom was strong and healthy. Over dinner one evening, my father, my brother and I discussed possible healthcare decisions for Mom.

In that moment, we experienced the challenges families face when healthcare instructions are vague or altogether missing for a loved one with a life-limiting illness. We debated whether Mom would want to stay alive, even as Alzheimer’s progressed and she no longer recognized us and could no longer communicate. And, we didn’t agree.

Like our family, most families won’t agree on end-of-life healthcare treatment choices for a loved one.  

If a family disintegrates while battling over treatment choices for a loved one, settling the estate will likely become infinitely more complex and subject to emotionally driven conflict. Additionally, if financial assets are decimated by costly care a loved one didn’t want, survivors might be left without an inheritance as intended.

As a trusted advisor, you can protect your client’s interests while also fostering family unity through a well-crafted healthcare directive, which in turn, can safeguard the intent of an estate plan.

Employing the 5 Strategies of an Effective Healthcare Directive will ensure that your client’s wishes are honored. For a healthcare directive to be effective, it must be:

  1. Thoughtfully written. Well-written healthcare directives require more than checking boxes on a perfunctory form. Ensure your client includes:
    • Clear treatment guidelines that express goals for future care
    • Statements of values and beliefs that will support decision-makers
    • Wisely chosen healthcare agents
    • Needs for emotional and spiritual care
  2. Clearly communicated. Encourage your client to gather loved ones and the chosen healthcare agent(s) for a family meeting to openly discuss end-of-life wishes. Optimally, everyone in the family can share preferences for his or her own future care. Furthermore, suggest your client schedules time with her physician to convey end-of-life treatment preferences.
  3. Securely stored. Suggest secure online storage options, such as Everplans or Docubank. The list of online providers offering this service is rapidly expanding. Paper copies might be necessary in some situations, both for older clients who resist online storage, and for those traveling frequently who might not have Internet access in a crisis.
  4. Readily accessible. Remind your client that healthcare agents need to have access credentials for any online storage and/or have paper copies of the executed document immediately available. Unlike the will, healthcare directives should not be stored in the safety deposit box or solely in the care of the attorney.
  5. Strongly advocated. Guiding your client to choose decision-makers who will zealously advocate for his preferences is crucial.Note: Next week’s post offers insights to assist you in this coaching opportunity.

Consider the privilege. By guiding your client to thoughtfully write and communicate end-of-life preferences, you can shape a client’s legacy and ensure family unity through multiple generations.

What a noble and beautiful service to offer your clients.

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