During  these unprecedented times, as unpleasant as it is, people have been thinking more about estate planning and ensuring that their end-of-life healthcare wishes are followed. There are two legal documents that state your wishes as far as what end-of-life care you would like done and who makes those decisions if you are unable to: a living will and a designation of health care surrogate.

What is a living will?

living will

A living will, despite its name, does not deal with whom your property and assets will go. Instead, it states the type of healthcare you would like to receive toward the

end of life. Some examples of what a living will includes are:

  • Your wishes regarding a feeding tube and artificial nutrition,
  • Whether you would like pain relief,
  • If and how long you would like to be on a ventilator and life support,
  • And other life-saving measures you may or may not want done.

By putting this down in writing, your health care surrogate will have no doubts about what type and how much care you would like to receive in the event that you are unable to voice this yourself. This is not to be confused with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form. This is a form you would get from your doctor that says if you code (i.e., your heart stops during an operation or while you’re in the hospital), you do not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to be performed on you. It does not address other possibilities and care options.

How to Designate a Healthcare Surrogate

A health care surrogate is the person you designate to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to do so. Typically, this is a person’s spouse, but does not have to be. It is vitally important to have this document on file with your doctor and given to your surrogate.

An unmarried person who becomes incapacitated and does not have a health care surrogate becomes a ward of the state and the state makes the decisions, which may not be made in accordance with that person’s wishes. As such, it is critical to pick a person who agrees with your wishes and will execute them as you desire. For example, if you would like to have life support ended after two weeks of no improvement, but your surrogate does not agree with this perspective, he or she may not do what you wanted.

While a spouse is the obvious choice, if he or she has conflicting opinions on end-of-life care, it is better to pick another relative or close friend that agrees with your choices.

Everyone Over 18 Needs a Living Will

These are documents that every adult needs to have in place, regardless of age. A life-changing accident or illness can happen to anyone at any time, and it is essential to have a plan enacted to ensure your wishes are followed. Another document called a HIPAA release authorizes the people you name to be able to talk to your doctor and receive information about your medical condition. 

Parents, please note, if your children are headed off to college soon or leaving the nest, make sure they sign a living will and health care surrogate document before they go. Even though you may think of them as children, if they are over age 18, they are considered legal adults in the eyes of the law. In the event of your child suffering a critical injury or illness, you wouldn’t be able to make medical decisions or even speak to the doctor without these legal documents naming you as the health care surrogate.

A well-known example of a person not having these documents in place that resulted in many years of contentious litigation and the incapacitated person’s wishes not being followed is Terri Schiavo. You may recall this landmark case that attracted both “right to life” and “right to die” advocates. In a nutshell, Terri had a heart attack at age 26 in 1990, and although she was resuscitated, she sustained massive brain damage resulting in her being in an irreversible “persistent vegetative state.” She did not have a living will or health care surrogate, so, her husband and legal guardian made the decision that Terri would not have wanted prolonged artificial life support without the prospect of recovery and elected to remove her feeding tube. Her parents disagreed with her husband’s decision and the medical diagnosis, and believed that Terri would have wanted to be kept alive, being a Roman Catholic. After a prolonged legal battle, including 14 appeals and numerous petitions and hearings in the Florida courts, five suits in the federal district court, and even with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress getting involved, the issue was settled in favor of her husband. Terri ultimately died in a hospice in 2005 after her feeding tube was removed.

Without a living will, doctors are compelled to keep you alive with heroic measures, including putting you on a respirator and feeding tube, doing CPR, using multiple drugs to maintain blood pressure and heart function, dialysis, amputation, other surgery and more. With a living will, you can specify if you want food or water to continue or be withheld, if you want experimental measures or even if you want to be kept alive for a certain amount of time so that your children living out of state have time to say goodbye.

Get Help from Top Boca Raton Estate Attorneys Today

These documents can be confusing. To make certain that they are filled out correctly and in accordance with your wishes, discussing it with you lawyer is by far the best option.

Morris Law Group is here to help you and your family members set up your living will and health care surrogate documents. Having them in place will give you peace of mind and will provide your loved ones with the guidance needed to make the decisions you would want if you are incapable of making them.

For more information or to set up a consultation with one of our experienced Southern Florida attorneys, please contact us or give us a call today at (561) 750-3850.

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