Many may recall the legal battle of Terri Schiavo, a woman from Florida that was in an irreversible vegetative state, which lasted from 1990 until 2005. The legal battle ensued when Terri’s husband wanted to remove her from life support, stating she would not have wanted to continue to live on artificial life support, while her parents disputed the doctor’s diagnosis and Terri’s husband’s assertions and wanted her to remain on life support stating that she would rather have quantity of life over quality of life. The legal battle that ensued lasted fifteen years and involved fourteen appeals before the final decision was made by the Court to allow Mr. Schiavo to have Terri’s tube feeding removed.
What if I told you that this type of situation could be avoided, or the stresses lessened, with basic estate planning documentation?
A Living Will and Health Care Proxy are two documents that work together, and at times are combined, to let not only your family know what your wishes are but also to let your doctors, the courts and anyone else concerned with your care know what your wishes are. Your Living Will advises doctors and family whether you want to be on life support, tube feeding and other artificial life support options to prolong your life, indefinitely. The Living Will also tells your doctors whether or not you wish to be resuscitated or if you want to have to have a Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, order in place. While a DNR might not be a logical option in your 20s, in your 80’s and 90’s you may decide it is the only option so your Living Will should be updated periodically to match your wishes.
Your Health Care Proxy is the person that will advise the doctors of your wishes. If you sign a Health Care Proxy form it will provide your agent with medical authority to step into your shoes when you are unable to make decisions for yourself, like Mrs. Schiavo who was comatose due to lack of oxygen to the brain after suffering a cardiac arrest. This designation allows your agent to advise doctors on what medical procedures you would consent to if you were able. Acting as someone’s agent is a huge responsibility and it is important that you speak to your prospective agent prior to signing paperwork so that they know of your wishes and you will feel comfortable knowing that your agent will be able to follow through with your wishes.
Another document that can be of great assistance that people do not always consider is a Power of Attorney. This document will allow a person to step into your shoes legally to proceed on your behalf should you be unable to do so. The Power of Attorney can be specific, used only for banking or selling/buying real estate, or can give your agent general power to bank, sell/buy property, sell stocks, speak to other financial institutions on your behalf. A Power of Attorney can be used to allow governmental programs, like Medicaid, speak to your agent so that they can assist you with preparing a Medicaid application and requesting the necessary documentation that Medicaid requires to approve or deny your application should you need a Skilled Nursing Facility for end of life care.
If you could save your family years of legal battles, stress and discord, would you? If you would like to discuss how you can help eliminate some of the stress that your family will be feeling in an already difficult time contact me today to discuss your estate planning needs and how our family at MCV Law can best protect your wishes.