Handbook for Mortals : Planning Ahead : Talking To Family and Completing Forms

Talking with your family is very important - and can be very hard. The people who love you most will often find it difficult to talk about your serious illness and eventual death. Picture of a sick man in a chair talking to a male friend But if they need to make any decisions on your behalf, knowing what is most important to you can guide and comfort them. At the very least, give them your answers to the questions in the values history questionnaire. Sit down and talk about it with one or two people at a time, or send them letters. If you can arrange a family meeting, talk to your whole family and give them a copy of your completed values history questionnaire. And be sure to discuss your answers specifically with whomever will be speaking for you when you cannot - your surrogate or proxy decision maker.

If you have signed a standard living will, you may think that you do not need the values history questionnaire. Advance directives, such as living wills, are legally endorsed documents and the values history questionnaire is not. However, despite the precise legal language, living wills are often difficult to interpret. Conventional living wills include words such as "terminal," "extraordinary," and "heroic" that mean different things to different people at different stages of disease. Thus, your answers to the values history questionnaire can be useful to your proxy, who needs to understand what you mean in your advance directive, taking into account your stage of disease and overall condition. You are often best advised to complete a values history and a legally endorsed advance directive.

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Keywords: Advance care planning
Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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