BACKGROUND: As the U.S. population ages, dramatic shifts are occurring in the proportion of older adults who are divorced and widowed. Health status and behaviors are known to differ across marital status groups, yet research on end-of-life (EOL) care planning has only compared married and unmarried persons, overlooking differences between divorced and widowed individuals, by gender.
OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to examine marital status differences in EOL care planning by comparing the likelihood of discussions about EOL care, designation of medical durable power of attorney (MDPOA) for health care decisions, and completion of a living will for married, divorced, and widowed older adults, by gender.
METHODS: Analyses used data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study for 2243 adults (50 years of age and older), who died during the course of the study. Post-death, proxy respondents reported on the decedents' EOL care discussions, living will completion, and establishment of an MDPOA. Multivariate regressions were estimated to test differences in care planning across marital status groups, for men and women.
RESULTS: Divorced men were less likely than married men to have had care discussions and to have engaged in any of the three planning behaviors. Widowers were more likely to have established an MDPOA. Both divorced and widowed women were more likely to have performed any of these EOL planning activities than married women.
CONCLUSIONS: Divorced men and married women are at risk for lacking EOL care planning. Practitioners are encouraged to discuss the importance of such planning as they encounter these at-risk groups.