Honoring your Wishes
A living will and medical power of attorney can be two
of the most crucial estate planning steps you take.
Theresa was only 26 years old when she went into cardiac arrest. She fell down in the hallway of her
apartment and was rushed to the hospital. She quickly lapsed into a coma, and then spent 15 years of
her life in what doctors diagnosed as an irreversible persistent vegetative state.
During that time she was unable to make any medical decisions. Her husband believed she did not want
to continue in her current state and asked that her feeding tube be removed. Her parents disagreed. The
legal battles that followed made history, and debates raged across the United States. By then, she was
known to the world as Terri Schiavo, a name that conjures up images of legal battles and protests,
instead of the life she lived.
There are two basic steps you can take in an attempt to prevent occurrences
like these. No one likes thinking about the worst, let alone planning for it. But if
Terri Schiavo’s situation has taught us anything, it’s that planning for such events
not only saves your family a great deal of potential heartache, it puts the focus
where it belongs: on your life and your wishes.
A living will is the first step to making sure you’re prepared in case of a medical
emergency where you cannot make decisions for yourself. A living will simply
spells out in detail exactly what kind of medical procedures you do or do not
want performed on you. It also indicates whether or not you wish to be
resuscitated and what your wishes are regarding a variety of other medical
conditions, including comatose and a persistent vegetative state.
Whenever you make these decisions, it’s important to make sure you consult
with your family to include them. That way, it’s completely clear what your wishes
are. It’s also important to include a financial professional in your complete
estate planning process, to make sure you aren’t missing crucial information or
Your living will generally deals with a variety of medical procedures and can get
as complex or as general as you wish. The more complex you make it, the more
your wishes are known. This is crucial, so that it is clear what you want. A small
amount of contemplation can go a long way to save your family and friends from
heartache and legal battles over what may seem like minor medical details.
The second part of making sure your wishes are known is naming a medical
power of attorney. A medical power of attorney goes by many names, including
health care proxy and advance directive. They all describe the same basic
principle. By naming a medical power of attorney, you’re simply designating
someone to act as the sole decision maker in your absence. Most frequently, a
spouse is named to this position, although it’s usually wise to name someone
else in reserve in case your spouse is incapacitated as well.
Drafting a living will and appointing a medical power of attorney are only two of the many ways to be
prepared. Sitting down and preparing a complete estate plan with a financial professional and an estate
planning attorney, is the only way you’re more likely to have your wishes honored from all sides, both
financial and medical.
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