Print Posted by Lisa Decker on 03/29/2016

Make Your Medical Wishes Known for National Healthcare Decisions Day

Do you remember the Terry Schiavo case? Terry was a 26 year old woman who ended up in a vegetative state after suffering cardiac arrest. Her family spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees before she passed away fighting over what measures she would have wanted for herself had she known what was ahead of her.

Read below as guest contributor Steve Worrall shares how to have those “Tough Conversations” to take the pressure off of your loved ones should they ever be faced with those kind of tough decisions on your behalf. Proper planning now and sharing your wishes in advance, is a sign of love and takes the worry off the shoulders of those you care about and you as well.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is on April 16th, and it’s an important reminder for every adult to begin having difficult conversations with loved ones about their most private wishes for medical and end-of-life care.

These critical conversations include letting someone know your thoughts and preferences on things like life support, feeding tubes, organ donation, what is “quality of life” and who do you trust to make such decisions on your behalf.

As an , I often receive frantic phone calls from people who are unable to access their loved one’s medical records, make important decisions or come to an agreement as a family over next steps to take regarding their loved one’s medical care—ranging from whether or not to “pull the plug” to placing a parent in a nursing home vs. keeping them at home.

All of these disputes can easily be avoided by having open and honest conversations about health care wishes before a medical crisis strikes. National Health Care Decisions Day is a great opportunity to educate people in our community about the importance of health care directives so that they can begin moving in the right direction!

Far too many people assume that their families would make the choices they would want in an emergency. Yet every day we hear stories of adult children, siblings or other relatives battling during a health care crisis over “what their loved one would have wanted” in that situation.

Incapacity Can Happen at Any Age

The Terry Schiavo case is a nationally-known reminder of what happens when a person becomes incapacitated without documenting their health care wishes. Only 26 years old, Schiavo suffered sudden cardiac arrest and slipped into a permanent vegetative state before passing away. She never documented her wishes about treatment options such as feeding tubes, life-support, and long-term care, leaving her family to battle for years over these issues in court.

Discussing your health care wishes in advance is a proactive way to help avoid a similar legal mess should you become disabled or incapacitated. But, your planning must not stop there. You must also clearly and legally document your preferences, as well as choose an “Agent” whom you trust to make such decisions if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Documenting Your Wishes Takes Pressure Off of Loved Ones

Remember, emotions can run high during a health care crisis, and it might be hard for your loved ones to stop life support, for example, when they desperately want you around. Having your wishes spelled out in writing helps provide guidance during a stressful time and makes these types of decisions easier for your loved ones, especially in cases when other family members don’t agree.

How to Start “Tough Conversations” About Medical Care

In honor of National Health Care Decisions Day, set aside time this month to begin difficult conversations with loved ones about your personal preferences for medical or long-term care if you haven’t already. Here are some important questions to consider:

  • Whom do you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf?
  • How do you feel about feeding tubes, life support, and other artificial life-saving devices?
  • Is there any type of medical care you would NEVER want?
  • If you were permanently disabled or incapacitated, what would contribute or take away from your “quality of life?”
  • What are your thoughts on nursing home vs. in-home health care?
  • How would you like your family to pay for the care you may need if co-pays become excessive or insurance does not cover your treatment?

A Final Consideration About Your Choice of Health Care Agent

One final point to consider when documenting your wishes and choosing a health care agent that will ultimately carry them out is that the person you nominate should want to have this responsibility. There are people who do not want, or cannot handle making medical decisions– even for their own spouse.

Remember, if the time comes that the health care directive needs to be used it is going to be a very stressful and emotional time for this person. Are they up for the job? Do they want the job? Take the time to have an additional conversation with whomever you are considering to ensure that they can, and are willing, to make the decisions that you would want in a crisis situation.

If you are contemplating divorce or are already divorced, make sure you have updated your will and advance directive documents so these decisions are in the hands of people you trust to carry out YOUR wishes. Do you really want your ex or soon-to-be ex to have the power to pull the plug on you should something unfortunate happen?

Whatever your life stage, be sure your loved ones are prepared in case something unexpected happens to you so that your wishes can be carried out with far less burden to those involved.

Plan your healthcare decisions to put your mind and those that you love at ease.

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Steve Worrall is an experienced wills, trusts and estate planning attorney, probate lawyer and adoption attorney in Marietta, Georgia. He concentrates his practice in all areas of estate planning including wills, trusts, probate, special needs planning and guardianship, and adoption. You can reach him at 770-425-6060 or steve@georgiaestateplan.com.

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