Legal issues in the estate planning field are as diverse and complex as the clients whose lives are impacted by them. For this reason, I highly suggest to clients that they put forth a plan for the unforeseen circumstances that life can often throw our way when we’re not expecting it. One situation that is important to think about is arranging the details with respect to who will handle medical decisions in the event of incapacitation.
Deciding on a preferred course of medical treatments, just in case, can relieve family members of a significant amount of stress as well as protect the value of your estate. The fear of the unknown is typically what clients stress about the most, so regardless of age, you should prepare advance health directives in compliance with the Florida state statutes.
Chapter 765 in the Florida Statutes addresses Health Care Advance Directives. Legislation has been enacted that recognizes the right of a competent adult to make an advanced directive instructing his/her physician to provide, withhold or withdraw life-prolonging procedures in the event that such person should become incapacitated. This legislation also allows an individual to designate another person to make the treatment decision for him/her if this situation arises.
We should all take advantage of these laws as there are significant dangers associated with not being prepared. For example, what if you become incapacitated in the midst of a divorce proceeding? I certainly would not want my soon-to-be ex-spouse determining my fate as I lie unconscious in a hospital bed! There is also the risk that family members can disagree upon medical treatments, thereby running up significant medical bills and quite possibly contributing to your failing health.
There are two important declarations that should be made in the Health Care Advanced Directive/Living Will. In my opinion, it is crucial to address directions for others to follow with respect to life-prolonging measures but also include the name of someone who can make general health care decisions in the event of incapacity. Both aspects are equally important as life-prolonging decisions will only be followed when the patient is in an end-state medical condition. This leaves open the situation where someone may not be in the end-state but nonetheless cannot competently make important medical decisions unrelated to life-prolonging measures.
Once your attorney drafts your Health Care Advanced Directive, it must be signed and filed at the attorney’s office. It is also very important to share the document. Providing a copy to your family, your physician and your close friends will ensure that someone you know will have access to the document in the case of your incapacity.