As we get older, we need to have in place some important legal documents to protect ourselves, our family and our assets. If you wait too long, it could be too late.
On March 31, 2005, American woman Terry Schiavo passed away, after a 15 year legal battle over her fate. During this time, her case became an international lightning rod for the discussion over end-of-life issues.
In brief, Terry had collapsed in her home on February 25, 1990. When the ambulance arrived, she was not breathing and had no pulse.
Various emergency medical procedures were immediately performed, however, her brain suffered from a lack of oxygen, and she fell into a Persistent Vegetative State.
In the months and years that followed, a protracted legal battle ensued between her husband, Michael Schiavo, and her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, about what Terri would have wished for herself.
The husband argued that Terri would have wished for treatment to have been withdrawn.
The parents were devout Roman Catholics, and did not wish to violate the Church’s teachings on euthanasia.
The fifteen year legal battle was emotionally and financially disastrous for the entire family.
Everybody had an opinion, and even the then-President of the USA became involved.
Everyone involved argued that they knew best what Terry wanted for herself.
What was completely missing in this case was a clear and unambiguous declaration by Terry of her own decisions in this matter.
In the legal world, there is a legal document known as an Advance Care Directive (AKA a Living Will. Anticipatory Directive or Medical Power of Attorney).
This document is designed to do two things:
- Make your decisions regarding health care, and end-of-life decisions, perfectly clear; and
- Nominate another person (an agent for health care) to carry out your wishes, on your behalf, if you are not able to do so yourself.
With an Advance Care Directive, the decisions remain your own. You make these decisions in anticipation of finding yourself in a situation where you cannot express your wishes.
Your agent is not allowed to substitute their judgment for your own, their only role is to carry out your wishes. Without such a document, the hospitals and Courts will have to substitute someone else’s judgment for your own.
You Can Protect Yourself and Your Family
These types of decisions are difficult to think and talk about. However, they are far too important to leave to others.
It is much easier to make these decisions for ourselves, than it is to do so for another person.
By making these decisions for yourself now, you are giving a great gift of love to your family, by sparing them from having to make the agonising decision for you.
Here are a few guidelines for how you can protect yourself:
- Talk about these issues with your spouse, your family, your friends, your spiritual mentor(s). Think carefully (pray) over these decisions, but also let others know what you would want.
- Execute a Valid Advance Care Directive, and keep it up to date. As important as it is to discuss with your loved ones, it is more important to put your wishes into legal effect, through a validly executed Advance Care Directive.
- Tell your doctors and your family that you have executed such a document, and make sure it can be found quickly in an emergency.
- Most importantly, don’t try to do this alone. We encourage everyone to work with an experienced lawyer who specialises in estate planning, who can provide guidance, answer questions, and ensure that your documents are legally valid. It is very easy to make critical mistakes in DIY documents. Any errors you make will not become apparent until it is too late to fix them. Don’t risk it.
These decisions are far too important, too personal, and too spiritual to leave in the hands of a Court, a hospital, or a third-party.
You need to take control of your own decisions, by executing a valid Advance Care Directive today as part of a modern integrated estate plan.
Like insurance, you cannot afford to wait until the disaster strikes, before putting protections into place. You cannot apply for insurance after the bushfire has swept through your property.
You have to have the protection on place before you need it. The same applies with your estate plan. Do NOT put this off. You must not wait until you think you might need it.
You need it now! Once you have lost your capacity, you will not be able to create the documents you (and your family) need you to have in place.
For more information on creating a modern integrated estate plan or other estate planning topics, explore our articles and visit our website today to schedule your consultation!
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