I get it. People do not like to think about the tough stuff – advanced health care directives, power of attorney for finances and medical decisions – that sort of stuff. I led a discussion at the Terraces about end of life issues and I was reminded, yet again, that people often feel that completion of a will or a trust is all that needs to be done. In reality, the person that you plan to be in charge (should you become incapacitated or die) MUST be informed ahead of time. Otherwise, complete chaos may result. Let me give you an example:
Let’s say that Jane’s Aunt wants Jane to be the one to make the tough medical decisions, should she become incapable of making medical decisions herself. Let’s also say that while Jane’s Aunt believes that Jane will do this well (after all, Jane is a Doctor), she did not inform Jane that she has chosen her… CHAOS! Here’s why…
First – Jane has not seen any documents and does not even know if there is a health care directive in place. So when the hospital calls her, she is taken by surprise.
Second – The doctor is asking if Jane wants her Aunt to have a feeding tube. No clue!
Third – Does the Aunt want to be an organ donor? Again, no clue!
Fourth – Jane does not know if her Aunt wants to be resuscitated in the event of a medical event.
Fifth – Jane has brothers and sisters who have the same priority to act for the Aunt.
Finally – The doctors are not going to feel comfortable taking decisions away from Jane without some kind of document – a letter of instruction, an advanced health care directive, someone with actual medical power of attorney… there’s nothing!
As I said, “CHAOS!”
When Others Must Make Choices for Your Health Care
Solution A – A Letter of Instruction – This is a handy way to convey information to your loved ones. This is a letter that you write to your children, trustees, and other interested persons detailing whatever is on your mind. You can describe the funeral you would like, tell them where the hidden treasure is buried, etc. That said, while a good place to start, it skirts the big end of life issues and for this is the reason Solution B is a good addition to the Letter of Instruction.
Solution B – An Advance Health Care Directive – The Advance Health Care Directive is more than just a document about medical decisions – it also directly addresses critical issues like termination of life support. It is imperative that the Principal (person signing the document) actually DISCUSS with his or her Agent (in this case, Jane) such issues as:
- Under what circumstances should I pull the plug? One foot on a banana peel or something more terminal?
- Does the Principal want a feeding tube? Since California does not condone assisted suicide, in many cases when someone is ready to pass on, the only way to accomplish this is to refuse food.
- What about donation of the Principal’s body as an organ donor?
- What if Jane’s sister believes that their Aunt will go when her time is up (keep her alive by all means).
- What if Jane’s very vocal and insistent brother wants to make decisions that are contrary to Jane’s and not what their Aunt would want?
- What if the Aunt’s estranged son decides to show up and has priority under California to make decisions even though she has disinherited him and has not seen him for forty years.
Benefits of Having a Plan in Place
With an advanced health care directive in place, the Agent (Jane) is very clear on her Aunt’s wishes and has all the paperwork in order to back her up in the event the tough decisions arise. What’s more, these decisions are thought out while the parties involved are able to work through things with a more clear and level head. Emotions, while certainly there, are more measured and free from guilt, obligation, duty, opinion and pressure that extended family can bring to bear.
Would you like to learn more? If you are interested in having me come to speak to your group, it is a wonderful opportunity to get a great Q &A going. The questions that come up in a group setting tend to include ones that folks forget to ask on their own. Simply call the office at 408-376-2755 and we will find a date that works!
Something goes here…. If you live in San Jose, Peninsula or South Bay Area, feel free to be in touch! I am simply a phone call or email away! In encourage you to print this Free 30 Minute Legal Consultation and use it to get some of your initial questions answered at NO CHARGE. I look forward to hearing from you.
This blog contains general information and is not meant to apply to a specific situation. Please seek advice of counsel before proceeding as each case is unique.