A close family member of mine recently suffered a heart attack. After he was stabilized and while he was still in the hospital, he started having severe chest pain. Several nurses rushed to his room and began to treat him with oxygen, nitroglycerin, etc. His wife stood helpless at the door of his room and could just catch a glimpse of his face between the nurses. At one point in the middle of it all, he looked back at her with tears in his eyes and said, "I'm not ready to die."
It broke my heart to hear that story and once he recovered, I asked him what was going through his mind at that moment. To my amazement, he told me he was actually fine with dying and at peace with "meeting his maker," but he was afraid to die because he hadn't planned for his death and made sure his wife would be taken care of after he died.
I was surprised to hear that this man in his 70's, who had always been so financially responsible, had not yet planned for his death. Needless to say, as soon as he was discharged from the hospital, he did.
In another situation, a client's 82-year-old mother was committed to a geriatric-psychiatric facility hundreds of miles away from her children after being diagnosed with advanced dementia. Her mother is stuck in the facility, where she is absolutely miserable and where her mental condition is deteriorating rapidly, all because she never executed a Durable Power of Attorney before she became mentally incapacitated and now it's too late.
Her daughter now has to go through the time, expense and stress of petitioning the court for guardianship and conservatorship of her mother and her mother's finances so she can sign a contract on her mom's behalf and pay a more appropriate facility close to the family. The process will cost thousands of dollars and take weeks, especially since the courts are still operating in a modified COVID-mode. Not only that, but the process will include the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, who will have to thoroughly investigate my client, including her personal finances, to determine whether she is fit to be appointed by the court.
This nightmare could have been avoided if her mother had executed a Durable Power of Attorney naming her daughter as her surrogate decision-maker. If she had, she would have been placed in a much more comfortable facility near her children weeks ago, not to mention the money she would have saved and stress that would've been avoided.
The fact is, it's never to early to make sure you've created a plan for your incapacitation or death. As much as we don't like to think about it, it will happen one day and it will cost your family dearly, in terms of time, money and stress if you haven't planned for it.
At the very least, every adult of any age should have an Advance Medical Directive (AMD), which lets you name someone who can make healthcare decisions for you in situations in which you can't make decisions for yourself, whether temporary or permanent.
An AMD can also state your preferences for healthcare you do or don't want to receive in a particular situation. For example, some people are opposed, for religious or other reasons, to receiving blood transfusions and other particular procedures. And it is always a good idea to specify whether you would want to receive life-saving or life-prolonging measures in the event that you're in a permanent vegetative state. We've all heard stories in the news about families who've fought about whether or not to keep a person alive in those situations. Remember Terri Schiavo? Terri was only 26 when she suffered a heart attack that left her in a permanent vegetative state and her family battled it out in court for over 7 years about whether or not she would want to be kept alive via artificial means in that state. Even the President of the United States had to get involved before the case was ultimately resolved!
Most cases aren't that dramatic, but they do happen and it's best to plan ahead and make sure your family knows your wishes before your family starts feuding and judges are made to speculate about them.
As a healthcare and estate-planning attorney, I help families every day to plan for the inevitable. Planning is simpler and less expensive than most people think, especially when compared with the alternative. Remember: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Don't fail your family. Let me help you now so I don't have to rescue them later.
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