Have you ever thought about how you might die? If you have you’ve probably hoped that it would be quick, painless and happen in your sleep. Though this might be the death we hope for, the reality is almost certainly going to be the opposite. Death typically provides great forewarning, can be lingering and cause great pain. Most all of us will die of non infectious diseases, starting with heart disease, including high blood pressure, heart attacks and general circulatory failure. After that comes cancer, and then a host of other diseases in various other likelihoods.
These are unpleasant truths, and not typically something we would like to dwell on. But as a clever pirate once said, “life is pain, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” Wise words, and a useful reminder that while we may be the heroes of our own life, it does not shield us from the most unfortunate outcomes the universe can through at us.But dying is perhaps not even the worst of what can befall us. While only 4.3% of people will die from dementia, it is currently estimated that 1/3 people who die of some other ailment will also have dementia at the same time. That’s a disturbing reality, suggesting that while we may still live a long life, we may not be in charge of all our faculties and could be left in an incapacitated state for an extended period of time.
I’m not going to delve into the morality of euthanasia and whether you should be allowed to choose assisted suicide. Instead I would like to shine a light on some common scenarios about what is likely to happen before we die, and why it’s important to have a Power of Attorney. A few months ago I wrote about the importance of young people having wills, to protect children, their assets and see to it that their families are cared for properly. But wills aren’t just for ensuring your wishes are carried out after you die, but before it as well.
A living will and a Power of Attorney as part of your estate planning could be counted as one of the most important aspects of sensible planning. Without it your wishes can not be carried out. If you get seriously sick, are in a terrible accident or lose your mental capacity due to illness, it is too late for “do not resuscitate” requests or to appoint someone you trust to manage your affairs. In fact, in Ontario, being rendered “mentally incapable” means that solely owned assets cannot be accessed by any other person, including your spouse. Instead you would be forcing your family to appeal to the Courts to appoint them a guardian. Outstanding bills, education funds and bank accounts may not be paid or accessed even if it’s your children’s future in the balance, and contrary to what you might think, the government does not make quick or speedy exceptions because you didn’t share bank accounts but have a joint credit card that needs payment.
Long lives are wonderful things, allowing us the privilege to see multiple generations grow-up and participate in so much more than any generation behind us. But a long life also opens us to the possibility of something bad happening to us, with greater potential for life threatening accidents and illness that maim but do not kill. Like insurance and long term financial planning, a living will and a power of attorney represents worse case scenario planning that we hope never to need. But while we may hope never to be left in a vegetative state, suffering from Alzheimer’s, or incapable of running our own lives, we should not be burdening our families and stretching financial resources due to poor planning.