Page Reviewed / Updated – July 26, 2022

The population of the United States is getting older. According to U.S. Census projections, by 2034, seniors aged 65 and over will outnumber children. End-of-life planning is something many people find difficult to address, but it’s an important topic. Seniors should consider their wishes when it comes to long-term care and issues such as life insurance and a will. According to the AARP, around 60% of adults don’t have a will. One market survey estimates just 54% of Americans have life insurance.

Some seniors delay end-of-life planning simply because it’s not a pleasant subject to think about. In other cases, it’s concern over the cost of life insurance or will preparation that deters them. The cost of life insurance varies depending on the provider, the policyholder’s age at sign-up, and whether they have any pre-existing medical conditions.

This article covers the basics of what seniors need to know about living wills, advance directives, powers of attorney and other aspects of end-of-life planning.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will is a statement of a person’s wishes when it comes to end-of-life care. It’s a form of advance directive that takes effect if a person is permanently unconscious or nearing the end of a terminal illness. The living will is used to describe the person’s wishes when it comes to how long they’d like to have their life prolonged and what sort of medical interventions they wish to have. People with religious beliefs that might affect their willingness to receive certain types of medical care can describe their wishes in a living will.

A living will isn’t to be confused with a last will and testament, which is used to dictate how a person’s assets are to be distributed after their death. It’s useful to have both documents, and some seniors also choose to have larger assets held in a trust.

What Is an Advance Directive?

In addition to the living will, other types of advance directives cover various aspects of medical care. These include medical powers of attorney and “do not resuscitate” orders. These directives cover situations such as a person having a stroke, being in a coma or developing dementia. 

People can use advance directives to specify whether they’re happy to be given CPR, treated with a defibrillator or intubated. These directives can also describe other life-saving measures they’re willing to receive.

One important form of advance directive is the Portable Order for Life Saving Treatments. This order has several other names, including the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment or Transportable Physician Orders for Patient Preferences. People can use this advance directive to tell emergency personnel what level of care they would like to be given in the event of an accident or serious medical emergency. This can include:

  • Comfort measures only
  • Limited treatments
  • Full treatments

What Is a Power of Attorney?

Powers of attorney can be used for a variety of purposes, including management of financial and legal issues. In the context of end-of-life planning, a power of attorney relates to medical care. Seniors can nominate a person who is permitted to make decisions about medical care on their behalf in the event they’re unable to make the decisions themselves.

A medical power of attorney doesn’t come into effect unless a person is incapacitated. This means a doctor must sign a document to say that they’re unable to make decisions about their care. 

It’s possible for someone to appoint a medical power of attorney as part of their living will, but that’s not how living wills are usually used. If a person’s living will doesn’t include any mention of a medical power of attorney, it’s a good idea to create a second document that lays out their wishes for this kind of emergency.

What Do Life Insurance and Final Expense Insurance Cover?

Traditional life insurance policies are usually defined as either term life or whole life. A term life policy lasts for a certain period of time, and when that term comes to an end, the policy simply lapses. Whole life insurance doesn’t expire. The value of the death benefit can vary significantly. Traditional life insurance ensures that ongoing living expenses of loved ones are covered after someone dies and could have six-figure death benefits or even higher. On the other hand, final expense insurance policies may have death benefits of $25,000 or less.

For someone who would like to make sure their funeral is carried out in a certain way, taking out final expense insurance that’s paid to their chosen funeral directors could be a good solution. This allows the person to plan their funeral arrangements in advance, reducing the burden on their loved ones and giving them peace of mind in the process. The average cost of a funeral is around $9,000, and final expense insurance helps ensure loved ones aren’t left with a large bill during a difficult time in their lives.

Where To Get Help With Elder End-of-Life Planning

End-of-life planning can be complex, especially when it comes to issues such as advance directives. Each state has different rules relating to what those directives can cover and when they’re enforceable. Some states allow verbal directives, for example, while others must be recorded in a specific format. For this reason, it’s important to seek professional advice from an elder law service in the resident’s state.

A local Area Agency on Aging can help find a senior law specialist in its coverage area. These nonprofit organizations help seniors access the local services they need based on their individual family circumstances.