Are You Prepared for the Unexpected? Learn About the Importance of Advance Planning

Sitting at a kitchen table, an adult daughter talks to her older parents about the importance of advance planning.

By Jeannie Finnegan, CDP, Dementia Care Consultant and Educator

As geriatric care managers and aging life care professionals, we understand the importance of having necessary discussions, even if they feel uncomfortable or awkward at first. We have seen many families face crisis scenarios unprepared. The trauma of a devastating diagnosis, accident, or health event can send families into totally avoidable chaos. So many couples and families are completely unprepared for such situations and are forced to make weighty decisions about a loved one’s care amidst overwhelming emotions. Lack of information, no knowledge of a loved one’s wishes, and the absence of up-to-date legal documents (a plan for future healthcare, advance directives, durable power of attorney for health and finances, a will, etc.) leave families floundering. This does not just apply to older adults. Any one of us can face a crisis event at any time in our lives, so the importance of being prepared cannot be overstated. The time to have these important conversations is NOW.

For example, a client’s 70-year-old mother experienced a serious fall that left her wheelchair-bound and with cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, the family had never discussed end-of-life planning with their mother, and no advance directives or power of attorney were in place. The adult children could not agree on the best course of care for their mom, and she was no longer able to express her wishes or make her own healthcare decisions. This created tremendous family tension, and one of the adult children ultimately took over most of her mother’s care. The emotional, physical and financial toll was significant.

Another example was a patient in his early 50s I visited in a nursing home after he had fallen from a ladder and experienced a traumatic brain injury.  His wife was deceased and there were no advance directives or power of attorney. His two young adult children agreed that they wanted all life-sustaining measures to be taken, even though their father exhibited very little brain activity and was ventilator-dependent. Sadly, the client was kept alive by artificial and mechanical means and never recovered any of his faculties or responded to anyone. He lived in the nursing home for over four years, with many hospitalizations for various infections, and he suffered unnecessarily until his death.

In other situations, when someone does not have a power of attorney, the courts will have to step in and appoint a legal guardian to take care of their affairs. The person will have little say in who the court ultimately designates as their agent. In the case of financial estate management, the absence of a durable power of attorney can lead to time-consuming and expensive legal resolution.

Advance Planning Can Be a Positive Experience

While these scenarios can seem frightening or perhaps unlikely, none of us knows what the future holds, and proper advance planning can turn what seems like a morbid topic into a more positive and empowering family time. We help our clients:

  • Connect with family members and make their end-of-life wishes known
  • Facilitate difficult conversations so they are more comfortable
  • Put all necessary pre-planning in place

With the proper planning and open conversations, everyone knows what their loved one wants, what they can afford, and who will help carry out their wishes and take responsibility should they be unable to at any point in the future. Ultimately, when the time comes, the client and their family are not thrown into a whirlwind of unknowns and trauma but instead can support one another and focus on spending quality time together.

Advance Planning Can Result in Better Care

Advance care planning is important because it …

  • Enables patients and their families to make informed healthcare decisions
  • Supports the delivery of high-quality care and more effective utilization of healthcare services
  • Improves quality of care and patient outcomes
  • Identifies early palliative care needs and end-of-life concerns
  • Results in less aggressive medical care and an improved quality of life near death

Don’t let life catch you unprepared. Instead, you can:

  • Align your family around your wishes. 
  • Have a voice.
  • Document what you want and don’t want if a time comes when you can’t speak for yourself. 
  • Give yourself options. 
  • Make choices before you’re in crisis. 

If you or your loved ones would like to discuss advance care planning and end-of-life planning, please reach out to us at or call us at (443) 812-1028 for a free 20-minute consultation.

For more reading, visit the website of the National Institute on Aging for an article on this topic.

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