If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, this week there's a chance to deal with them both.
Today, of course, is income tax day - but Tuesday is National Healthcare Decision Day. It's a reminder to let loved ones and doctors know how you might want sudden or end-of-life medical events handled, if you're unable to make that call.
According to Dr. Will Kennedy, medical director for hospice and palliative care at Adventist Health, having a living will is a good start, but this is about more than medical details.
"What are the things that you as a person value, and that is, what is quality of life to you?", he asked. "What are different types of circumstances in which you might make different decisions? And helping them understand what you would want."
Kennedy said it's important to put your wishes in writing in the form of advance directives, and every state has slightly different rules and forms. Whatever your preferences, he said, it's important that your doctor also has a record of them.
Kennedy remarked that the discussion doesn't have to happen all at once. It can be handled in stages and documents updated over time, with greater detail necessary for a person facing a chronic illness. For those who don't want to talk about it, he suggested framing the conversation not about failing health, but about peace of mind for family members and friends.
"When these issues are not clarified, they can create a tremendous legacy of grief and distress, because they did not know what to do when someone had some type of dramatic medical event," the doctor cautioned. "And they're left with the uncertainty, and sometimes guilt, about making decisions on what they thought that person would have wanted."
According to the group "Compassion and Choices," Alzheimer's and related forms of dementia add a complication that should be addressed early. Most advance directives take effect if a person is terminally ill or unconscious, and people who suffer from dementia may be neither, but still unable to make medical decisions.
A website with links to state-specific advance-directive forms is CompassionAndChoices.org.