We discuss the importance of having an Advanced Health Care Directive (aka Living Will) and the important choices you must make in this living document.
The Advanced Health Care Directive, also known as a Living Will, is one of the most important documents in the estate planning process. What this document does is it specifies what should happen to you if you become sick or incapacitated and are unable to make decisions yourself.
A lot of people are focused on trusts and wills, but forget their important living documents. The importance was recently highlighted back in 2009 by sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama, at an AARP speech, “I actually think it’s a good idea to have a living will. I’d encourage everybody to get one. I have one; Michelle has one. And we hope we don’t have to use it for a long time, but I think it’s something that is sensible.”
You might be thinking, why do I need to know about the forms that would only be used under very specific circumstances and scenarios? What are the chances that I’ll use them and what benefit would they have if I did have them?
Well, Living Wills are another layer of protection. One of the worst things we can do for ourselves is to live with the expectation that nothing unexpected could happen. Then the scenario happens. This is why the Advanced Health Care Directive is important and serves as an important safety net.
Also known as either a “medical power of attorney” or “health care proxy appointment”, a Living Will specifies the kinds of treatments that can be used on you, as well as a forbiddance of other procedures. It can also prolong your life should you want to live in spite of fatal disease or accident where you are on life support. It can also specify whether your organs can be used for transplant or research purposes. These are important issues for many people, especially in light of diverse religious beliefs.
A couple of problems with Living Wills is that they are usually a snapshot of your intentions at a point in time and must subsequently be updated in order to continuously reflect your changing objectives.
Many people are uncomfortable with the topics around death, so it becomes tough for them to even start the discussion. To think of all the scenarios can be exhausting. Therefore, the Medical Power of Attorney allows you to be able to appoint someone to make decisions when you are unable to make them yourself. For many people, this is a relief as you can pass on these tough decisions to a spouse or child. The advantage of a prepared Advanced Health Care Directive is that the person you entrusted can make real-time decisions in light of your circumstances in order to best reflect what you might want, taking away some of the guesswork.
My grandfather was diagnosed with a very curable lung cancer back when I was very young in the early 2000’s. He went to the hospital and never came back. What had happened was that the attending doctor had interpreted his inability to speak (due to a form of lung bruising) to be something that wasn’t worth the resources to cure. Sometimes we do not have the luxury of time to wait on a decision. He was ultimately pulled off oxygen and suffocated in his hospital room alone.
This maybe wouldn’t have happened if he had created a living will or had appointed a family member as the decision maker when it came to his health. My hope is that no one else will experience what my family did. I also hope that I can inform those that read this article, of the importance of getting your Advanced Health Care Directive completed. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
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