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Estate Planning is for You II

Who Draws the Line?

In this Covid-19 epidemic, a wrenching question especially demands an answer: if you or someone you love is taken down into life-threatening illness, how far would you want extreme life-prolonging measures to be tried? Okay, forget about Covid-19 and rewind to before the epidemic. Now consider you are a single female who is pregnant, unconscious with a life-threatening illness: who is the priority, you or the unborn fetus? What if you are married, what role or input does your husband have in the decision?

When I meet with clients, especially women of child-bearing age, I usually tell them these are the most difficult questions I will ever ask them and they will ever consider. They are indeed very difficult decisions to consider and to make. Often, they will have to get back to me and I tell them I completely understand. By the time we are done, they tend to agree with my assessment.

What kind of guidance do you give your Agent if you are unable to make the decision for yourself? Where do you draw the line? Who draws the line? These questions are particularly stark for many in today's Covid environment. Many people are familiar with DNR orders, “do not resuscitate.” These are intended for cardiac arrest. The threats posed by the current virus, though, more often implicate breathing problems. The longer time spent on a ventilator, the greater the chances of permanent damage, disability, or death.

Sadly, many are dying alone, without their loved ones present. The New York Times recently reported on a particularly heartbreaking case. Unfortunately, with over 140,000 deaths to date, there are too many similar stories.

Most people over sixty with a serious illness say they would prefer to be kept in comfort at the end, even if that care shortens life. But where to draw the line? How much time alive would you be willing to sacrifice, to decline aggressive treatment, and possibly die sooner? The need to provide at least some answers is important not just for you. Clinicians and caregivers need guidance, too.

Last week we discussed two of the three critical estate planning documents: Wills and Trusts, and a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. These documents focus on your property. But for your the most important asset of your lifetime--your life--you need to ensure you have Advance Healthcare Directives.

An advanced health care directive, like a living trust, is designed to take effect during your lifetime. This directive stipulates your end of life wishes as well as what should happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your medical care.

A durable power of attorney covers who will make financial decisions for you if you are unable to. You can specify more than one agent, and you can be very specific about what that agent can do on your behalf, including the management of online accounts.

Under ordinary circumstances, Advance Healthcare Directives is a critical estate planning document. But today, especially for those who are particularly vulnerable – seniors, those with compromised immune systems, and those already struggling with medical conditions – the need is exponentially greater.

A 2017 study showed that approximately two-thirds of Americans had neglected to provide prior guidance by creating advance health-care directives like health care powers of attorney and living wills. Back then, most of us could not have imagined being in an epidemic like the one now.

Even if you or your loved ones have already done the responsible thing and created advance directives, now is the time to review those documents to make sure they reflect what you want under current conditions.

Health-care providers are ethically obligated to do everything feasible to keep us alive. If we have no advance directives in place, the system will take over – and families can end up in long-lasting anguish for having had to be the ones to make the final call. Do not let that happen. Think through the question for yourself and talk with a person whom you trust to make that decision for you if need be. For your safety and ours, we are still taking precautions and limiting initial consultations to videoconferencing. Give us a call at 301.892.2713 or click here for an easy and convenient way to schedule your consultation for your advance healthcare directives – and may you and yours not need them for a good long while.

"Living with your bags packed!"


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