The number of older Americans has skyrocketed in recent years. There are few signs it is slowing down. By 2030, one in every five Americans will be age 65 or above. It won’t be long until individuals in this age bracket outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many of these older Americans will rely on younger family members (such as adult children) to ensure they receive appropriate care up until the end. To do so effectively, these younger generations need to know exactly what their loved one wants. This often starts with advance directives.

Two critical components of advanced care planning

There are a number of different types of advance directives – essentially, legally valid forms that allow an individual who can no longer communicate to still express their wishes. However, there are two critical directives that often form the backbone of advanced care planning: a health care proxy and a living will.

A health care proxy allows an individual to appoint a health care agent. (Your aging parent could select you or a sibling, for example.) In the event a doctor determines that individual is incapacitated, the health care agent takes on the legal responsibility to make health care decisions for that person.

With a living will, meanwhile, an individual outlines their particular medical wishes for end-of-life care. If a living will is established, then a health care agent can use it as the basis for making health care decisions on that individual’s behalf. A living will might include directions for whether to allow:

  • Specific pain relief measures
  • Procedures or operations
  • The use of life support measures
  • Organ donation procedures

A health care proxy and living will can be as broad or narrow as the individual desires.

Knowing is half the battle

One of the main causes of stress and anxiety among family members who care for an aging loved one is the unknown. Everyone wants what is best for them, but may have a different idea of what that actually means. Would dad want to be on a feeding tube? Would mom be OK undergoing this type of procedure?

By simply providing clear answers, a health care proxy and living will can defuse these situations before they ever begin.

While difficult to discuss (though there are some ways to approach the topic sensitively), creating these advance directives benefits everyone. You know that, when the time comes, your aging loved one’s wishes will be clear and easy to respect, which often prevents family conflict. Your loved one can move forward with a clear conscience and peace of mind knowing the same.