Employees have always looked to HR for help as they prepare for the changes that come with life’s big events, like childbirth and retirement. Get ready for more of them to start asking for your advice about how to prepare for death.
One catalyst: The 2005 death of Florida resident Terri Schiavo, whose husband had her feeding tube removed after a very public legal battle, put the need for living wills at the top of the headlines (and the top of “to-do” lists for many people). Plus, the recent death of Anna Nicole Smith, who had an out-of-date will when she died, spurred even young adults to think about getting their affairs in order.
As the work force ages, employees are considering the eventuality of having to make life-or-death decisions for themselves, their aging parents and their spouses. HR professionals can help by providing a template for a living will, which explains the person’s wishes for treatment (or for forbidding treatment) if the person becomes incapacitated.
About 20 percent of Americans have living wills, up from about 15 percent two years ago when the brain-damaged Schiavo died, says Paul Malley, president of Florida-based Aging with Dignity, a national advocacy organization promoting better end-of-life care.
Some organizations, like information storage firm EMC of Hopkinton, Mass., help employees make living wills through a group legal plan for which workers pay a premium—less than $20 a month—for unlimited access to a lawyer. Most of the firm’s 1,500 employees who subscribe to the service use it for estate planning and wills. About one-quarter of the employees have used it for living wills.
Others employers, including PNC Financial and the Florida state government, distribute do-it-yourself living-will kits to employees, provided for $1 each by Aging with Dignity. (For details, visit www.agingwithdignity.com.)
Many of the organizations that offer living wills as an consider it a way to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities.
“There’s a strong interest in being able to address those needs in ways that don’t cost a great deal of money,” says Malley.
Living wills as a benefit: 3 tips
Here are some practical tips for helping employees with living wills:
- Offer low-cost living-will kits as part of your organization’s elder care program.
- Educate employees about living wills, but don’t get involved in their decision-making about end-of-life care.
- Draw attention to the value of living wills whenever a public figure’s death is linked to the lack of advance directives.