As people live longer, the chances of experiencing incapacity increase, and the advance health care directive becomes ever more crucial in avoiding disputes and providing a peaceful transition for end-of-life situations.
It is often asked, why do I need an Advance Health Care Directive? My family knows what I want and I trust them much more than some piece of paper written by a lawyer.
To answer that, it is helpful to distinguish between the typical scenario and the worst-case scenario. People don’t usually experience the worst-case scenario. Typically family members are united in wanting the best for the one in the hospital. Normally, doctors hardly pay attention to the health care directive. Usually, there are no disagreements. Usually.
But what if the worst-case scenario comes about? Are you prepared? What if there are disagreements? In that case, a health care directive, like a bridge over the dispute, can save a family. In the worst-case scenario, or even the not-worst-case, but bad-enough scenario, different family members may disagree about proper treatment. Doctors suddenly become reluctant to make decisions without clear legal authorization. Conflicting opinions about whether to continue life support may require a court order to resolve.
In the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was in a coma, the initial court order to remove the patient from life support was appealed to successive Florida and Federal courts, and Congress and even the President of the United States got involved. All the while Teri lay in a coma for 15 years. The legal fees that result from such a conflict are astronomical and the family division is tragic. If Terri Schiavo had prepared an advance health care directive, there would have been no real dispute, little or no family division, and little or no legal fees.
Who needs an advance health cared directive? Not everyone needs every estate planning tool. It makes no sense to plan to reduce estate taxes if there is no chance of paying estate taxes. But every living adult needs an advance health care directive.
Your loved ones will thank you.
Next week’s Estate Planning Basics post will explain what an Advance Health Care Directive is and how to get one.