Keep Documents Up to Date

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 05, 2017

It is always important to keep legal documents up to date. People who don't have cancer or another serious illness need to have wills (especially if they have children) and powers of attorney and health care directives. And, once we have done this work, we need to keep things up to date. Laws change, relationships change, people move away or even die.

Once we have a cancer diagnosis, this is even more important. Yes, I know that it is very upsetting to think about these things, but I promise it does not get easier if you opt to "wait and do this if I get really sick." It is a little tiny bit easier to think about a will when death does not seem very real or very near. People I have known who were actively dying and had not yet attended to the business have had an even worse time. It takes energy and time to take care of business, and serious illness can reduce the amount available.

Thinking about a health care proxy is extremely important. Who do you trust to speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself? This means that you need to have some difficult conversations with your spouse or adult child or close friend. It is not fair to ask them to make hard choices without knowing what you you want.

The Five Wishes document can help with these conversations:

This is from Harvard Health Watch:

Keep your health care directives up to date

If you decide to change something in your living will or health care power of attorney, the best thing to do is create a new one. Once the new document is signed and dated in front of appropriate witnesses — and notarized, if necessary — it supersedes your old directive.

The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging suggests that you re-examine your health care wishes whenever any of the following "five d's" occurs:

Decade: When you start each new decade of your life.
Death: When you experience the death of a loved one.
Divorce: When you experience a divorce or other major family change. (In many states, a divorce automatically revokes the authority of a spouse who had been named as agent.)
Diagnosis: When you are diagnosed with a serious medical problem.
Decline: When you experience a significant decline or deterioration from an existing health condition, especially when it diminishes your ability to live independently.

Read more:

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
View All Articles