In Maryland and other areas of the country, many senior citizens want to spend their last days at home or in a caring hospice, not in a cold hospital room surrounded by machines. Experts say that a living will can help keep the elder's wishes front and center by designating heirs and beneficiaries. This can ensure death with dignity, something that is happening less and less for many older people. While death in the hospital was the fate of slightly fewer elderly people compared to the past, according to a recent study, this may be because more of them were being moved to a hospice just days before dying.
What happens may also be influenced by geography. In one of the most popular destinations for retirees, St. Petersburg in Florida, 45 percent of older advanced cancer patients spent time in an ICU during their last month alive. Similar patients in North Dakota, however, died in such circumstances only 10 percent of the time.
Regardless of location, however, a medical ethics expert indicated that the problem arises when an older person doesn't know how to inform family or doctors of his or her wishes for end-of-life care. The expert recommends that this conversation take place despite its discomfiting nature at the very beginning of any long-term treatment for illness. In addition, people should consider having an attorney draw up a living will to express their wishes.
A living will can make the death of a loved one more dignified, but it also lets heirs and beneficiaries know a family elder's wishes to preserve their legacy and distribute their assets. A lawyer experienced in estate planning may be able to help families work out the legal and financial details involved in such documents and ensure that they are thoroughly drafted.