Houston Estate Planning Law Blog
‘THE DESCENDANTS’ AND THE REALITY OF HEALTHCARE PROXIES
Many people in Texas remember the 2011 George Clooney film ‘The Descendants’ in which a husband and father of two girls must make the difficult decision of following his wife’s medical wishes or keeping her on life support. But as much as we’d like to think that this scenario was a construct of Hollywood, situations like this happen every day in hospitals across the nation.
In most cases, a patient has already discussed their medical wishes with their family and friends, even authorizing a medical proxy in the event that they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves. But it’s often times surprising to know how many people do not either designate someone as their proxy or tell their proxy about their wishes before the unthinkable happens.
Let’s take, for example, the story of an elderly Massachusetts couple. As the wife’s lung disease worsened, she was having considerably more trouble breathing on her own. But as she told her nurse, she had taken numerous trips to the hospital and been placed on ventilators in the past; these were situations she never wanted to be in again.
Though she had explained this to her hospice nurse on multiple occasions, it was a conversation she had failed to have with her husband who she had recently designated as her healthcare proxy. Although he was considered her healthcare power of attorney on paper and responsible for making important medical decisions, because she hadn’t discussed this with him he unknowingly had her placed on a ventilator after she suddenly couldn’t catch her breath one day. It wasn’t until after speaking with the nurse that the wife’s intentions were discovered.
Although it’s a difficult conversation to have with your loved ones, planning for situations like this ahead of time-preferably before the onset of an illness-can ensure that all of your wishes are being carried out to your exact specifications. Doctors and hospitals rely on the instructions given to them by patients in order to give the exact care that a patient wants to receive; if that person is unable to make those decisions for themselves, doctors look to family members. Making medical decisions for someone else can be incredibly stressful and -as George Clooney’s character demonstrated -difficult to make as well without proper guidance.
Source: The Boston Globe, “Doctors have a duty to encourage patients to discuss end-of-life wishes,” Kiran Gupta, Feb. 20, 2013
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THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN PLANNING YOUR WILL
Although this may seem like old news to many people here in Texas, it’s surprising to see how many people do not plan for their estate until it’s almost too late. Some of us feel the morbidity of it all-writing a will while you’re still in your prime-but others haven’t begun writing their wills because they simply don’t know where to start.
Most people usually start seriously considering a will when either someone close to them passes or they are told that they have a serious medical condition that could greatly reduce their time here on earth. No matter what gets you to start thinking about estate planning, sometimes people get so worried about ensuing arguments over their estate decisions that they put off making a plan to avoid the headache.
For those who find themselves in this situation, some estate planning exerts will advise you to calm your anxieties by simply thinking about one simple thing: give to those who you hold dear. Once you set aside the daunting idea of separating your belongings and financial assets equally amongst your beneficiaries, you allow yourself the freedom to show how much you cared about someone through the act of giving.
A majority of people, when planning their wills, focus most of their efforts on dividing their estate, often times completely forgetting about including their medical wishes as well. They’re another important part of any will that not only help ensure that your burial wishes are followed but help give directions to family members on how to follow through with your wishes.
Source: The New York Times, “In Writing Her Will, It’s the Little Things That Matter,” Laura Holson, Nov. 13, 2012
Continue reading: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN PLANNING YOUR WILL