End-of-Life Care may be Spelled out During Estate Planning

October 17, 2012

When you hear the words “estate planning,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you envision your closest friends and family members gathered in a large room after your death, waiting anxiously to hear what they’ve each inherited. Or you might think that estate planning only applies to people who are extremely wealthy, and that it isn’t necessary for you or the average Joe.

But planning your estate is about much more than determining what happens to your assets after you die. Among its many other functions, estate planning allows you to make careful decisions about events that could affect you before you die. A living will dictates how you want your health care and other affairs managed if you become ill, mentally disabled or otherwise incapacitated. Making these plans may seem morbid, but being unprepared for such an event can make things harder on you and your family, who may not agree on how to handle your situation.

Consider the case of a 28-year-old woman who is currently suffering from terminal brain cancer. Her doctors have estimated she only has a few months or weeks to live, and she recently requested that her breathing and feeding tubes be removed so she could be allowed to die. But her parents, who are deeply religious, likened her wishes to suicide, and last month they went to court to stop the hospital where she’s staying from removing her from life support, saying that a heavy amount of drugs was preventing their daughter from making a rational decision about her own care. Her father attempted to become her legal guardian in order to stop the move.

A state appellate court decided to uphold her wishes, but named her father, a pastor, her health care proxy in the event she becomes truly incompetent to make decisions. In the meantime, however, she’s decided to stay on life support. Her attorney suspects she made the decision under pressure from her parents.

There’s no telling what other decisions might be coming soon — plans are in the works to move the woman from the hospital to a nursing home — but the fact that her competence is being questioned demonstrates the value of making decisions about your own health care ahead of time, when no one can question you’re of sound mind and body.

Source: New York Daily News, “Brain-cancer patient’s father drops court bid to be named her guardian,” Erica Pearson, Oct. 9, 2012

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