By Abigail Neal, Scottsdale Wills Lawyer
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will informs medical providers about the types of medical actions you want taken in the event you are ill or incapacitated and unable to make decisions or communicate for yourself. Your Living Will specifically tells your medical providers about your end-of-life medical wishes, including your wishes about medical treatment that would artificially delay death from a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma. A Living Will is sometimes called a “do not resuscitate” or “DNR”.
What is the Difference Between a Living Will and a Last Will and Testament?
A Last Will and Testament (the document typically referred to as a Will) is a legal document in which you state the the people who should inherit your property after you pass away. You also appoint a guardian for the care of minor children, a conservator to care for minor children’s assets, and a personal representative to administer your estate. This is different from a Living Will, which describes your end-of-life medical wishes including whether you want aggressive medical treatment that would artificially delay death.
Why Would I Need A Living Will?
Although doctors have the ability to keep people alive artificially, many people prefer to pass naturally.
Advancements in medical technology have made Living Wills a very important document. More than two million Americans are currently confined in nursing homes as a result of aggressive medical intervention. Over 1.4 million Americans are only able to survive by using feed tubes because they are too weak and frail to survive otherwise. Countless others are kept alive in a persistent vegetative or comatose state. Some of this is due to the failure of people to execute Living Wills stating their wishes for these types of situations. When a family doesn’t know what a person would have wanted, it is very difficult to make that decision for them.
Aggressive medical intervention is also very expensive. The Journal of American Medicine published that extensive study that finding that in nearly 20% of cases a family member had to make a major life change, like quitting their job, to care for a sick patient suffering from a terminal or vegetative condition. In 31% of cases involving such patients, the patient’s family lost most or all of its life savings, even though 96% of those patients had insurance.
With these statistics, it isn’t surprising that between 70-95% of people do not want aggressive medical treatment that would artificially prolong their lives if they were in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma. This is what a Living Will does for you – it speaks these wishes for you when you are unable to communicate them yourself.
Terri Schaivo’s Nightmare – Could Have Been Avoided With A Living Will
If you are in the 70-95% of Americans who would rather refuse aggressive medical treatment that would artificially delay death, you need to create a Living Will as soon as possible. As Terri Schiavo’s family learned, even healthy 20 somethings can benefit from a Living Will. Sadly, the Terri Schaivo case now stands to remind people of the heartbreaking consequences of not creating a Living Will.
At the young age of 26, Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack. Oxygen could not reach Terri’s brain causing massive brain damage that put Terri into a vegetative state. Terri was kept alive in this state for several years through the use of a feeding tube. Although Terri received multiple of medical treatment, the damage done to her brain could not be repaired. Eight years after Terri’s heart attack, her husband Michael decided to remove Terri’s feeding tube. Everyone involved knew that if doctors removed the feeding tube that was keeping her alive artificially, Terri would die. Terri’s parents fought Michael’s attempt to remove the feeding tube, claiming that Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Michael and Terri’s parents had no choice but to take the dispute to court, forcing a judge who had never met Terri to decide her fate. Years later after very public court battles, the court ruled that Michael could remove Terri’s feeding tube. When Terri’s doctors removed her feeding tube, Terri passed away – 15 years after her initial heart attack.
In addition to the tragedy suffered by Terri and her family, another tragedy is that the entire situation could have been avoided if Terri had made a Living Will. Although Terri’s husband and parents fought over what they believed Terri’s wishes were, Terri never got a say in the matter. Instead, her fate was left up to a judge who didn’t even know Terri. Most people wouldn’t want their families to fight the way Terri’s did, not to mention the millions of dollars that were spent on the legal battles and Terri’s medical care.
How You Can Benefit From A Living Will
The Terri Schaivo situation is something no one wants their family to have to endure. An no one wants to force a loved one to make the painful decision to “pull the plug”. Your end-of-life decisions are some of the most personal decisions you will ever make. With a Living Will, YOU can make those decisions – not your loved ones and not a judge. No one wants to end up with people fighting over what they wanted with absolutely no say themselves.
Hire Powers & Neal To Prepare Your Living Will and Other Important Estate Planning Documents
A Living Will is just one critical component to a comprehensive estate plan. We offer flat fee estate plan packages for every family. Call Arizona estate planning attorney Abigail Neal at (480) 699-7992 to discuss which option best suits you and your family. Of course, there is no charge for these questions. Learn about all of the estate planning services offered by Powers & Neal.