Make the Tough Decisions so your Loved Ones don’t have to. It’s not a fun subject to think about, nor is it a fun topic to discuss with your family, but preparation for end-of-life decisions should be part of every individual’s estate plan.
In Florida, these end-of-life preparations are made through a Living Will. There are various legal requirements when executing a Living Will, so it is important that you consult an attorney prior to doing so to ensure that your Living Will will be valid.
Living Wills are often confused with Living Trusts, which are used as an estate planning mechanism to allow your assets to pass outside of probate. A Living Will, rather, is an estate planning document that allows an individual to make known their wishes as to whether they would prefer to utilize or decline the use of life prolonging medical procedures.
These medical scenarios usually present themselves in situations where a person is suffering from the latter stages of a terminal illness, has an end-stage condition, or find themselves in a persistent vegetative state. The use of medical treatment only serves to artificially prolong the process of dying. In these circumstances, where you are unable to speak for yourself, a Living Will acts as a mechanism to make your desires known to your family members and/or the medical personnel.
Common misconceptions are the fear that a Living Will might supersede your current preferences at the time of treatment, or that declining “life prolonging treatment” on a Living Will might jeopardize your opportunity to recover from an illness or injury that you might otherwise be able to survive.
These fears are misplaced. First, a Living Will only becomes effective when you are incapacitated, meaning that if you are awake and coherent, your verbal preferences will outweigh whatever designations you made within the Living Will. Second, Living Wills are only utilized in medical situations in which it the patient is suffering from a terminal condition, end-stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state.
An individual should not fear that the Living Will would take effect in non-life threatening scenarios nor situations in which medical personnel might be able to resuscitate the patient to normal health. Moreover, the patient’s supervising medical doctor, and at least one other consulting physician, must separately examine the patient to certify that the patient is suffering from a terminal illness, or will remain permanently unconscious, prior to a Living Will becoming effective.
As we discussed, end-of-life preparation is not a fun topic to discuss nor prepare for, but what is exponentially worse is being put in the situation where you have to decide whether your parent, spouse or other loved one, should be resuscitated or not. Even though a loved one’s long-term medical outlook is hopeless, it can be extremely difficult for family members to “let go” when there has not been any instructions from the loved one. This often leads to long-term emotional strain and an ever-increasing financial burden.
Regardless of your position on life-prolonging treatment, make your preferences known pursuant a Living Will. You would not want to be put in the position of having to make such an important decision for another, so get yourself prepared by executing a Living Will, ensuring that the people you care about most will not have the burden of having to make that decision for you.