Plan for the certainties of death and taxes

By J. Gregory Whitehair
Posted 4/24/19

If you’re reading this, you’ve survived another April 15th — tax day. April 16, ironically, was National Healthcare Decisions Day, designed to ensure that all adults with decision-making …

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Plan for the certainties of death and taxes


If you’re reading this, you’ve survived another April 15th — tax day. April 16, ironically, was National Healthcare Decisions Day, designed to ensure that all adults with decision-making capacity have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their healthcare wishes. In plain language, that means you’re deciding how you want to spend your end of days!

Of course, we can never totally control how death comes to us, but as a practicing attorney in this community, I see too many families torn apart by a lack of thinking about, talking about, and planning for, the inevitable end of this life, or families in turmoil at the hospital because no one knows what you want, or one or another relative “remembers” from vague conversations. That’s why I am committed to encouraging everyone over 18 to have conversations with their loved ones, to write out their own custom-tailored advance directive for healthcare (AD), and to distribute copies to everyone who might be involved when that time comes.

I work with Tomorrow’s Choices, a volunteer nonprofit organization. We hold free workshops at libraries and churches that provide the information necessary to complete your AD. As a lawyer, I can tell you that you don’t need a lawyer! You only need two witnesses (who won’t benefit from your will) who can later say that you were the competent signer.

Workshops, such as ours, cover issues such as as our death-phobic society, how to write your AD, and who may be best able to make competent decisions on your behalf. (For instance, when you name an agent and alternates, sometimes your spouse or child will not be the best choice, because you can already see it will be so hard for them to deal with such an emotional situation.)

Who do you want with you when you die? Where do you want to be? At home? In a hospital? Do you want hospice involved? Would you want CPR? What would you want done if you had dementia and could no longer feed yourself? When is a good time to think about palliative care? These are all choices you need to make – or someone else will make them for you!

The Advance Directive contains a Living Will, where you choose what life prolonging efforts and procedures you would want, and those you would not want, when you come to the end of your life. We present videos, pictures, and graphs showing various possibilities to help you decide what you think would work best for you.

For instance – despite what you may have seen on TV – did you know that when CPR is performed, 49 percent of people die during the effort? That another 41 percent die before they can go home? And, of the 10 percent who do go to a care center or home, almost all have reduced mental capacity because if CPR is not started within 6 minutes of the heart’s stopping, the brain begins to die, and does not recover from the lack of oxygen.

Furthermore, did you know that a survey of doctors shows that 75 to 90 percent of them would not choose to have CPR, artificial ventilation, dialysis, chemotherapy, or many other treatments toward the end of their own lives? However, over 80 percent of them would want pain medication to ease their suffering.

In choosing what kinds of care you would want, and talking about those choices with friends and family, you give your agents the information they need to know should you come to a point where you cannot speak for yourself and their services are required.

Completing your advance directive is the greatest gift you can give your family, friends, and medical providers in what will be a tumultuous moment. For more information about Advance Directives, plan to join your neighbors at a Tomorrow’s Choices workshop. Upcoming locations are listed on our website,, along with many other resources and our contact information.

Don’t let another National Healthcare Decisions Day pass without putting your wishes in writing and having conversations with the people that matter to you.

J. Gregory Whitehair, J.D., is a mediator and local attorney in the Lakewood area. He is a facilitator for the organization Tomorrow’s Choices.


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