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Advance Directives - Preparing for the future

Many of us are finding that as our clients age, their legal needs change as well, and we must be prepared to serve them and their families in the closing chapters of their lives.

Just as they have done all their lives, our clients want to retain control over their financial, social and health care decisions as they get older. Helping clients develop strategies for maintaining their dignity, while preparing for the day when they may not be able to make choices, is an important role for each of us as lawyers.

While clients are competent, it is critical to encourage them to complete documents that outline their wishes on how they want to be cared for when they are unable to care for themselves. Even younger clients can benefit from having a set of documents to explain their wishes, as most adults will experience one or more periods of incapacity due to illness or injury during their lives.

For older adults, the chance of diminished capacity increases with age. Approximately 10 percent of the population over age 65 suffers from Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. That percentage rises to nearly 50 percent of the population over age 85.

Many clients are afraid to verbalize their wishes, fearing that putting their preferences for care and treatment into writing can make the need for them a reality, or can give another party control over their person or possessions.

Our role as lawyers is to explain that planning documents ensure client wishes are carried out and conversely avoid having courts obtain decision-making authority. We need to point out to clients that they can change their minds about any one of these documents.

A brochure from the American Bar Association — Health & Financial Decisions, Legal Tools for Preserving Your Personal Autonomy — presents an overview of the rationale for planning along with brief descriptions of a durable power of attorney, a trust, a health care power of attorney and a living will. Additionally, the brochure describes the steps in the advance planning process.

Also, a list of myths and facts can help you dispel the doubts and questions your clients may express.

Working together with them, you can help your clients maintain their dignity, autonomy and quality of life.

For a copy of the toolkit, download a copy at


Saginaw County Bar Association

© 2007 American Bar Association





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