The loss of a loved one is hard enough, but many families find themselves overwhelmed when it comes to facing end-of-life legal matters. From a healthcare power of attorney to taking care of post-death financial matters, the complexity of these legal tasks can compound a person’s grief. Grieving family members often struggle to find the best course of action to resolve legal issues while simultaneously working through intense emotions and mourning the loss of their loved one.
Here are three ways hospice care providers can help families navigate end-of-life legal matters:
Address the Role of a Power of Attorney
As patients approach their end-of-life transition, a healthcare power of attorney is often drafted. This document appoints an agent — often a friend or family member — to make decisions on behalf of the patient, known as the “principal” under this agreement. A power of attorney is required to consult with the principal’s healthcare providers and base their decisions on current medical advice and their own assessment of the principal’s wishes.1
Hospice providers have an opportunity to help power of attorney navigate this role by providing accurate and up-to-date information about the patient’s current treatment plan, condition, and prognosis. In practice, this means leveraging hospice software tools that collect and centralize this information for easy reference, in turn allowing healthcare staff to quickly find the information they need.
Review and Manage Treatment Options
Patient autonomy is a key aspect of compassionate hospice care. This extends all the way to end-of-life care — providing the availability and freedom of choice wherever possible forms the foundation of modern healthcare. There are situations, however, where life-preserving care may be withdrawn. These include autonomous decisions from patients, the recognition that the harms of treatment outweigh positive outcomes, or the understanding that potential treatments will not achieve the intended goal.2
In the latter two scenarios, hospices may encounter resistance from families and friends who have the best interests of their loved one at heart but may not fully understand the totality of their current condition. Here, hospices can help navigate the legalities of stopping treatment by providing families with detailed information about treatment histories, patient responses, and interdisciplinary efforts. By offering insight into the progress and prognosis of patients near their end-of-life, hospice teams can help loved ones recognize the legal grounds for letting go.
Help Streamline Post-Death Processes
The first moments after the loss of a loved one can be very personal depending upon religious and/or cultural customs. Families may wish to sit and grieve quietly, reflecting on the patient’s life, last days, or last words. Many families are also unsure of what comes next, especially when it comes to resolving any legal matters related to life insurance, property, and financial issues.
The most important first step is the official pronouncement of death by a healthcare professional such as a doctor or nurse. This pronouncement includes forms that specify the time, cause, and place of death and are required for family members to obtain a death certificate.3 Ideally, hospice providers can look to streamline this process as much as possible. For example, the use of an electronic medical record can streamline the pronouncement process by ensuring quick access to all relevant information as well as making sure that all relevant form fields are completed correctly.
Looking for ways to better manage end-of-life documentation and decision-making? Get started today with Net Health Hospice.
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1 Today’s Geriatric Medicine, “Legal Aspects of End-of-Life Care,” 2021.
2 National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Ethical and Legal Issues In End-of-Life Care,” June 2010.
3 The National Institute on Aging, “What To Do After Someone Dies,” August 2020.