by Erica M. Erickson, Attorney at Law
Most of us have seen the tragic stories on the news during the past several decades involving families torn apart over the decision to keep or remove life support for a loved one who has suffered a serious accident or medical condition that has left the person in a permanent vegetative state, with little to no hope of ever regaining consciousness. Most of the time, everyone involved claims to have the best interests of the loved one in mind when demanding that life support be continued or removed. How can anyone be sure what the person would have wanted unless the person communicated this to everyone concerned? Most of us would not want to leave our loved ones guessing and arguing with each other about whether or not to “pull the plug” on our behalf. Because it is impossible to know when any of us could suffer a serious accident or medical emergency, it is important that we communicate our wishes in writing while we are still able to do so.
An Advance Directive, also called a Living Will, is a document that describes an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event the person loses brain function, is unable to communicate, and is highly unlikely to ever regain consciousness. The Advance Directive states under what circumstances a person would or would not want life support, including the use of feeding tubes, intravenous fluids, and various machines that can keep a person alive when their brain or body is no longer able to do so. The person’s doctors and Health Care Power of Attorney are obligated to follow the directions set forth in the Advance Directive. However, as long as a person is still able to communicate, the Advance Directive does not take effect and the person will continue to direct and control medical decisions. Once completed, a copy of the Advance Directive should be given to the primary physician, the Health Care Power of Attorney, and shared with any loved ones likely to be involved in end of life medical decisions.
This article was written by Erica M. Erickson, an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at Strauss & Associates in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Erica can be reached at (828) 696-1811 or [email protected] and she is happy to answer any questions you may have or to provide you with a free consultation regarding your estate planning needs, including Medicaid planning, wills, trusts, and more.