“The recent passing of First Lady Barbara Bush has touched many Americans deeply. Affectionately known as the ‘Silver Fox,’ Bush was an advocate for both children and literacy in the United States. She was the matriarch of a family that has been at the political forefront for over 40 years. She was also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.”
For many of us, losing Mrs. Bush was like losing a family member–regardless of our political party, says Forbes in its recent article, “Barbara Bush And Betty Ford - How Two First Ladies Mastered Unique Aspects Of End Of Life Planning.”
The grace with which she handled the final days of her life, is something to consider in estate planning. She dictated how she left this world, probably with her health care directive, and she is an example of a life well-lived and a death well-planned.
Mrs. Bush’s death is a drastic contrast to how most Americans approach the dying process. The average American doesn’t have a well-planned approach to how they wish to handle death. In 2017, the University of Pennsylvania's Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center found that only 29% of all Americans even have a health care directive. This is an important document to help your family as well as medical and legal professionals understand your wishes about medical treatment, palliative care, and funeral plans.
Likewise, Betty Ford used her estate documents to express her last wishes in a unique way. Betty wanted her eulogy to be a political statement on how the increased partisanship in Washington was creating a negative impact on the country. She asked journalist Cokie Roberts to eulogize her, and the eulogy was to be specific. Betty wanted Roberts to speak about Washington in the 1960s and 70s and how the DC crowd had to get along and work together. That was because they were frequently at dinner parties at each other’s home on the weekends. This was the statement she wanted to be certain was communicated.
Another powerful use of the health care directive is to provide our wishes for treatment, in the event we lack capacity, or our condition is terminal.
Barbara Bush’s health care directive stated that treatment for her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure would stop, and she’d return home to focus on being comfortable in her last days. She was surrounded by family and on her final day, her husband of 72 years sat at her bedside and held her hand. She even had a final bourbon!
If you are in the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have a health care directive, use these First Ladies’ stories as inspiration.