The gift of planning: Judge Hill delivers talk on importance of legal plans for aging, end-of-life situations

MARQUETTE — A little planning can go a long way in a serious medical situation or at the end of life.

To help educate the public on advance directives for medical care and other end-of-life planning, Marquette County Probate Court Judge Cheryl Hill gave a presentation entitled “The Importance of Legal Planning as We Age,” during Thursday’s Lake Superior Adult Day Services Art in the Moment reception.

“I honestly believe the best gift you can give to your family is planning,” Hill told the audience.

Hill began by defining an advanced directive, which is “a written document where you talk about what kind of medical care you want in the chance you are unable to communicate your own wishes.”

Advance directives need to be prepared “when you don’t have problems with your thinking or your cognition,” she said. Preparing an advanced directive when you are “young, healthy and able to communicate,” is the best way to go about it, Hill said, as an incapacitating situation could arise unexpectedly and without a plan, a person’s family will not have solid direction on what an incapacitated person’s wishes are.

Before preparing an advanced directive, Hill recommends sitting down to seriously think about what you would like “somebody to do for you when you can’t speak about your own health care.”

“Do you want every effort made to make sure that you’re alive? Or would you just like to be made comfortable and be allowed to go out gracefully? Or go out another way?” Hill asked.

This makes it important to communicate with family and loved ones about your own wishes, as well as theirs. Hill recommends broaching the subject with family members during a gathering or holiday where all are present. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it could make all the difference in the future, she said.

“You want to make sure that you know what your mom and dad want, your spouse knows what you want, your children know what you want,” Hill said.

When preparing an advanced directive, it’s also important to find someone you are comfortable with being your patient advocate, as they will be the person to carry out your wishes and make decisions, should an incapacitating situation arise, she said.

“Whoever you pick, make sure that one, they are capable of holding up your desires, your wishes,” Hill said. “Two, that they’re comfortable enough to do that. And three, if there are other siblings or family members — maybe I wanted everything possible done to keep me alive, but say I had a sister who didn’t believe in that and thought I should only have comfort care — if I identified my brother as my patient advocate, he has to be strong enough to tell that sister, ‘No, that’s not what Cheryl wanted.'”

A patient advocate can be anyone over the age of 18 — a spouse, parent, child, friend or neighbor, Hill said.

There are also advanced directives for mental health treatment, which can outline a person’s wishes for aspects of mental health care, such as medications they are willing to take, types of therapy they would like to have and providers they would prefer, Hill said.

“So many of us suffer from mental health issues and that’s something that a lot of people don’t think of with advanced directive … if you don’t have something like that, if there’s an involuntary mental health commitment, if it comes to the probate court, we make those decisions,” she said.

For those who wish to get started on an advanced directive, Hill recommends accessing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ resources on the matter and reaching out to a lawyer.

“Lawyers have special expertise in this area,” she said. “And they can walk you through these steps and make sure everything is done appropriately. Plus, they can do some other planning with you at the same time.”

Hill also educated the audience about Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment, or POST, which is a document prepared by a person and their doctor when a person is in a severely life-limiting situation.

“It’s different than that advanced directive I was talking about. It goes into specifics and your doctor is signing it with you, because it’s an order that travels with you,” she said.

When developing a POST, a competent person can sit down with their doctor and discuss what kind of treatment they would like to receive.

“This is another agreement, another piece of paper that you have that will help carry out your wishes and your desires,” Hill said.

Hill emphasized that planning and preparing ahead for end-of life situations is truly a gift for a person’s loved ones, as they can be sure that a person’s wishes are being carried out.

For more information on advanced directives in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71547_2943_70663—,00.html. For more information on POST, visit https://polst.org.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal .net.