Advance Directives Demystified

Cady Kuzmich/ Gazette Reporter
Nearly 70 people gathered at the Clifton Park - Halfmoon Public Library Feb. 9 to hear Bonnie McGuire Jones speak about advance directives.Cady Kuzmich/ Gazette Reporter Nearly 70 people gathered at the Clifton Park - Halfmoon Public Library Feb. 9 to hear Bonnie McGuire Jones speak about advance directives.

BY Cady Kuzmich
Gazette Reporter

Clifton Park — Advance directives may seem frightening, and they are, but the fate they’re designed to prevent is even more so.

Well known cases like that of Terri Schiavo’s, a legal battle which dragged on over 15 years, often loom overhead when advanced directives are brought up. For those who have already forgotten, Schiavo was a young woman whose family was divided over whether or not to end life support after a massive cardiac arrest left her in a vegetative state. Since her wishes were unclear, her parents fought with her husband for years, ultimately attracting national attention and involving the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other cases that have made national headlines in the past tend to have one thing in common — the patient was struck down suddenly and had not made their wishes known.

Bonnie McGuire Jones is working to ensure cases like this happen less often.

Nearly 70 people gathered in the Clifton Park – Halfmoon Public Library Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. in order to hear Jones, an attorney specializing in end-of-life decisions, clear some of the fog surrounding advance directives.

Throughout the talk, Jones stressed the importance of making your wishes known. “Your willingness to seek help and be vulnerable helps you and your immediate family,” she said.

Ann Coca, librarian assistant and public relations specialist, said “ I really like these connections we make in the community. Bringing the people with the information to the people who need it — that is the library’s mission,” she said.

Jones, who called the library a “lifelong learning center for the community,” has been in this specific field of law for her entire career as an attorney — 35 years in all. She was first introduced to the field while doing rotations, similar to those in medical school.

“What appeals to me,” she said, “ is the combination of problem solving within the context of people’s lives and the fact that it requires good writing, research and speaking skills.”

Jones said now that people are living longer, the way individuals go about their advance directives has changed. Simply put, the longer people live, more people will experience some form of dementia or alzheimer’s — diseases that inflict a person’s ability to reason. “It’s best to put it in writing at a time when you’re not under physical stress,” said Jones.

According to the Associated Press, between 20 to 30 percent of Americans report having an advance directive. What troubles many is the fact that even when patients do have advance directives, physicians may not be aware of them. PBS cites a 2007 Critical Care Journal study which found only 25 percent of physicians knew their patients had advance directives on file.

Jones provides her clients with a bright folder to hold all their important documents and advises them to leave the folder someplace obvious. She also urges her clients to make copies of their advance directives to give to loved ones. Jones also gives her clients a wallet-sized card indicating they have advance directives. “So if they’re admitted to the hospital, it will be apparent.”
While it may not be on most college students’ minds, Jones advises people to take care of their advance directives at age 18. “In fact my firm has gone to the Clifton Park Library and offered pro bono sessions where we will meet with and prepare health care proxies, living wills and powers of attorneys for graduating seniors whether they’re going on to college, going to a new job or going into the military,” she said.

“It’s heartwarming to see people get it,” added Jones.

She recommends updating advance directives at pivotal moments in life including marriage or big moves across state lines.

While Jones was unable to provide a range in cost for people seeking more guidance on how to prepare their advance directives and get their estates in order, she said “The better prepared people are before they visit their attorney, the less expensive it will be.”

During the brief question and answer period at the end of Jones’s lecture, one man stood up in the crowded room and lightened the mood in the room, saying “When Bob Hope was asked by his daughter where he’d like to be buried, he said “Surprise me!”’

Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239 or ckuzmich@dailygazette.net.