If you become permanently incapacitated or terminally ill and are not able to speak for yourself, who would make healthcare decisions for you? The hospital? The doctors? Do they really know your preferences about whether you want to be on a feeding tube or breathing machine and for how long? Not likely. The best way to avoid this problem is to get an Advanced Directive for Healthcare in place as part of an overall estate plan. What is an Advanced Directive and why do you need one?
Hi, my name is Bill Miller. I’m an elder law attorney in Anniston, Alabama. My partner, Bruce Adams, and I own Adams Miller LLP. We work with families on elder law and estate planning issues.
Today I’m gonna address the question, “What is an Advanced Directive for healthcare?”
Many of you may have heard the sad story about Terry Schiavo several years ago. She was a middle age female, as I recall, well, actually maybe in her 30s, down in Florida. She had been in a coma for several years and her husband wanted to end her life and said that she did not want to live on feeding tubes and life support machines and her parents did not want to turn her off the machines; they wanted her to continue to live.
She did not have an Advanced Directive for healthcare and so the issue had to go through the courts. It was a nasty, long fought battle pitting her parents against her husband since her actual wishes had not been put into writing. An Advanced Directive for healthcare is designed to prevent that very problem.
The first part of the Advanced Directive is a living will. In that living will you will specify when you do or do not want to be on life support, whether you do want to be on a feeding tube, whether you want to be on a respirator.
Obviously all these questions only come into play if you are in the hospital and become incapacitated or incompetent and you can no longer live by natural means. You decide ahead of time if you want to be on these machines and for how long. If you do not have that then, again, there is no way to make that determination.
Now when you go into a hospital in Alabama, if you do not already have an Advanced Directive or Living Will, the hospital will usually have you sign a living will that their attorneys have drafted. The problem is that living will is very generic; it is the same one everyone signs and it is designed to protect the hospital. It is not designed to carry out your wishes.
Part two of an Advanced Directive is a Healthcare Proxy, or Healthcare Power of Attorney. In part two you name a trusted loved one to make decisions when your end of life issues come around and whether you get on feeding tubes or respirators.
You can decide how much power to give that person, whether you want them to only do what is in your living will. A lot of things can happen that are not necessarily covered in the living will and by having this healthcare proxy who you have discussed all this with ahead of time they can make the decision about these issues and not rely solely on the hospital or the doctors.
I think most people would prefer that their loved ones make the choices, not the hospitals or the doctors. By having an Advanced Directive as part of your estate plan in Alabama, you can assure that your wishes are carried out at the end of life.
To get more information, I encourage you to register for one of our free workshops where we discuss this in more detail. If you prefer, you can order one of our free estate planning books at www.AlabamaEstatePlanningGuide.com. The other books and additional information are on our website at www.AnnistonEstatePlanning.com. If you prefer you can just call and set up an initial consultation. If we can be of help please do not hesitate to contact us.