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Advance Directives and End of Life Considerations in a COVID-19 World

As we learn to navigate the COVID-19 reality, filled with uncertainty, there is one thing that we can all do to take control; establishing our Advance Directives and expressing our end of life wishes. While thinking about our own mortality may not be the most uplifting conversation, it is important to consider and ease the stress that your loved-ones may experience should you be unable to make decisions on your own.

Even if you have already enacted a Living Will, named an Agent under Power of Attorney for Healthcare, or otherwise expressed your wishes for death and dying, it is important to recognize that due to quarantine measures and a potentially overwhelmed healthcare system, life-threatening sickness due to COIVD-19 presents a new set of challenges for end of life measures. Some unique situations to consider include:

  • Perhaps your wishes to be kept alive by a ventilator in most situations may be altered due to the bleak survival rate of COVID-19 patients that require assisted breathing, in comparison to non-COVID patients requiring the same intervention.
  • If your wishes are to have your family or friends at your side at the time of your death, this would most likely not be possible in a hospital setting due to restrictions on visitors. Would you accept an audio/video call with your loved ones in your final days, or would you prefer to forego hospitalization in order to be physically present with them (and assume the risk that they may contract the disease as well, if they haven’t already)?
  • If you choose to stay at home in your final days, what hospice services and palliative care are available to you, should you choose them?

Now is the time to speak with your physician to notify them of any new or existing Advance Directives, such as a Living Will. It is also important to consult with your named Agent under Power of Attorney for Healthcare, next of kin, or other loved-ones in order to make your wishes known. This is especially important because under Illinois state law, the decision made by your Agent under Power of Attorney for Healthcare will be accepted over the contents of your written Living Will.

In addition, it is generally accepted to only enact a Practitioner Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which is a more current and detailed version of the old Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), if you feel that death is likely within the next 12 months. However, if you are in a high-risk demographic and/or are living in a “hot-zone” this is a document worth considering though you may otherwise be in good health. Speak to your physician about whether or not a POLST form is appropriate for your situation.

The Illinois Department of Public Health offers forms for Advance Directives that you can print and sign at home, though we recommend that you work with an elder law attorney to ensure that your documents are properly executed, as well as for more customized documents. See our previous blog article, Remote Signing Process During COVID-19 Pandemic for more information on how to legally enact your Estate Plan during a time of physical distancing.

At Strohschein Law Group our goal is to always Protect What Matters, even during the current COVID-19 threat. We have policies, procedures, and technology in place that should allow us to continue serving your needs during this challenging time. We are working remotely for our protection and yours, but we are here and we are ready to help!

If you have any concerns regarding Advance Directives, contact a certified elder law attorney, such as Linda Strohschein and her team at Strohschein Law Group. To set up an appointment, contact Strohschein Law Group at 630-377-3241.

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