Creating your advance directive or living will during a pandemic

After a recent ER visit for respiratory issues, Dr. Ami Mac made a decision to call a lawyer to begin drafting an advance directive and a will.

(CNN)Dr. Ami Mac was hospitalized in March with symptoms identical to Covid-19.

The 44-year-old doctor in Palo Alto, California, has an underlying immune deficiency, but has "never had shortness of breath before," she said.
Her test came back negative for coronavirus. But whatever has been plaguing her, Covid-19 or some other respiratory condition, resulted in two trips to the hospital.
    She's nervous about her future during the pandemic, and she recently contacted her friends to discuss her own end-of-life decisions, she said. In the past, she's had these kinds of discussions with patients many times.
      "We don't want to want to feel guilty for making those decisions for them. It breaks families apart," Mac said. "It's kind of silly for me not to have prepared with all the things I've seen."
        Now she feels the need to confront the questions herself, and she's appointing her parents to make decisions on her behalf should she become unable to do so.
        Mac's conversations with those close to her parallels those of frontline health workers, patients and their families, and really, anyone who thinks the pandemic could affect them. Many more people have been forced to think about their own mortality sooner than they would have imagined.
          On April 30, her 44th birthday, she called an attorney about creating an advance directive and a will. "I'm planning on moving forward with having that drafted and properly managed," Mac said.
          These life-or-death decisions are marked by a sea of of medical and legal paperwork. Here's what you need to know in order to start putting your plan in place.

          There's a spike in people writing out their wills

          "People know now they need these documents," said Renee Fry, founder and CEO of Gentreo, a company that enables people to create and store a number of critical legal documents, including those that appoint health care proxies, delineate advance directives and spell out a last will and testament.
          She said that amid the pandemic, the platform has recently seen a 223% increase in the past month in users creating paying memberships.
          On top of that, users' age distribution has "changed dramatically," she said. Prior to the pandemic, a typical user creating a will and other documents was between 50 and 67 years old. Now new sign ups come from "across the age spectrum," ranging from ages 28 to 72.
          In this time of social distancing, she and her colleagues frequently field questions about whether documents can be witnessed remotely. Many states have emergency orders allowing people to witness documents electronically, or deeming estate planning an essential service.
          "People don't fully appreciate what failure to be plan would mean for them," said Mary Kate D'Souza, Gentreo's chief legal officer. "It can create a legal morass that you're just not prepared for."

          It's a time to have meaningful conversations with loved ones

          The most important thing, experts noted, is that if you're apprehensive about end-of-life planning, you don't have to get everything perfect on the first go. You have every opportunity to come back to these documents as often as you need or want to in order to make adjustments.
          It could be at major life milestones, including your wedding, the birth of a child, a divorce or a new diagnosis. It could also be an annual check-in.
          "The joy and meaning and purpose of it is to talk about it with your loved ones," said Adam Hayden, a 38-year-old philosopher living with brain cancer. "This is an act of love."
          Hayden frequently writes and speaks around the country about the need to confront the most essential end-of-life questions.
          At age 34, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which carries with it a 15- to 18-month median survival time. Each year since then with his wife and three kids has been a blessing. "I will happily update my documents each year," he said.
          For many, end-of-life planning can feel morbid. To ease the awkwardness, the Coda Alliance, a group that seeks to empower people to take ownership of end-of-life conversations, created a "Go Wish" card game for families to play together.
          Another way to ease into the conversation is with the Five Wishes workbook, which helps structure necessary decisions on one's physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.