Now that your New Year’s celebrating is over and you’re into the first week of embarking upon -- or pretending to embark upon -- all the resolutions designed to extend your life and make it more fabulous (exercise, diet, meditation, etc.) , here’s something at the other end of the spectrum you should resolve to take care of: planning for the end of your life.
Of course, it’s difficult to ruminate on your own death, particularly if you’re a member of the baby boomer generation — the youngest of that group turns 49 this year and the oldest turned 65 two years ago — which is devoted to aggressively caring for themselves physically. Officials at AARP, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group that represents the interests of people 50 and older, say that people don’t begin to think about their own mortality until they suffer a serious illness or see parents or close friends struggle with sickness or death.
But there are plenty of reasons why ignoring this could be problematic for this generation and society overall. More Americans are remaining childless -- meaning they can’t look to children to automatically assume caretaking responsibilities. And boomers are in the course of inheriting more wealth than any other age group in American history has ever done. According to a study released in 2010 by MetLife, baby boomers will inherit $8.4 trillion. If you think that’s a lot of money, consider this: those boomers are then expected over the next three decades to pass along $30 trillion.
According to a study commissioned by AARP, 59% of people 45 or older do have a will. But even more important than having a will, AARP elder law attorney Sally Hurme says, is designating people to have financial and healthcare powers of attorney in case you are so debilitated physically or mentally that you can’t make decisions for yourself. In addition, people need a healthcare directive specifying their wishes for the time when they won’t be capable of speaking for themselves. These documents are crucial, she says, because, “It’s all about you while you’re still alive.”
Unfortunately, only about 39% of people age 45 and over have a healthcare power of attorney. And, according to the AARP study, that number went down to 22% for Latinos and 20% for blacks. In the case of Latinos, Hurme says studies indicate they believe their families will take care of them with or without a written document.
But blacks, research shows, worry that “if they have one of these documents, their care will be restricted,” Hurme says.
That finding in particular is troubling — a legacy of a time when black Americans were routinely neglected or treated poorly by institutions. Having these advance directives in place, however, is a smart way to assert some control over your life in the face of a hospital bureaucracy.
We’re not trying to harsh your New Year’s mellow. In fact, consider this just another chore that will help you cross off the “get organized” resolution you put on your New Year’s list. Last year.
(For information on planning advance directives, you can go to an AARP article on the subject. And AARP has a "Decide, Create, Share" campaign targeted to boomer women -- who are generally caregivers for everyone else.)