Your Estate Plan: Advance Directive for Health Care
People often think of estate planning in only terms of planning for distribution of your estate after your death. However, estate planning takes many forms, including attempting to resolve potential disputes between family members in advance, such as disagreements about whether or not we want to be kept alive by life support.
Many of us recall the tragic saga surrounding Terri Schiavo. In February of 1990, Ms. Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest and massive brain damage and was eventually diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. In 1998, her husband sought permission from a Court to remove Ms. Schiavo from life supporting measures, including tube feeding. Ms. Schiavo’s parents opposed the removal and the lawsuits and appeals lasted for more than seven years. Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube was eventually disconnected and she passed away in March of 2005.
Much of this dispute centered on whether Ms. Schiavo would have wanted to remain on life support or not. Once on life support, Ms. Schiavo could not communicate her wishes about whether or not she wanted life support or tube feeding. Although she had made verbal statements to friends, Ms. Schiavo had not committed her wishes to writing in the form of a living will or advance directive for health care. If Ms. Schiavo had written out her wishes about life support in advance, it might have saved her family years of heartache and litigation.
In Oregon, it is possible to resolve these issues ahead of time with a document called an “Advance Directive for Health Care”, or simply an “Advance Directive.”
With an Advance Directive, you can appoint a “health care representative” to make heath care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself, such as if you are in a coma. In addition, you can use the Advance Directive to indicate under what circumstances you want to receive life-sustaining treatment, including life support or tube feeding.
Under Oregon law, physicians are required to follow your instructions that are laid out in your Advance Directive. If the physician thinks your instructions are morally objectionable or medically inappropriate, the physician is required to transfer your care to another physician.
The Advance Directive document is fairly simple and inexpensive. Remarkably, according to a recent survey, less than 25% of adult Oregonians have completed an Advance Directive. It’s difficult to pinpoint why so few people have done so. Some people may be afraid to face the prospect of their eventual death. Other people might think they are “too young” and Advance Directives are only for the elderly.
The decision to complete an Advance Directive should not be taken lightly. But, the fact of the matter is that an Advance Directive plays a critical role in your estate planning, whether you are young or old. Completing an Advance Directive makes your wishes known to your family and loved ones. It can save your loved ones a great deal of stress, time, and money to know exactly what you want.
If you would like to complete your Advance Directive, we would be happy to assist you. We are also happy to discuss any of your other estate planning needs. Please feel free to contact us.