Joan Rivers was in a coma for several days following a minor medical procedure. According to reports, it fell to her daughter, Melissa Rivers, to make the decision to end life support.
We hope you’re never in that position, either with or without prior direction by your loved one. It is difficult enough to be faced with a loved one’s accident or injury. But, speaking from experience, it is a horrendous emotional burden to be forced to make end-of-life decisions for an incapacitated loved one without their input or prior guidance. Here’s what you can do to protect your loved ones (and what they can do to protect you).
In California, having an Advanced Healthcare Directive allows you the opportunity to specify what kind of care you want, and under what circumstances. You can be as specific and detailed as you want. It requires thinking carefully about unpleasant end-of-life issues and deciding who would be willing and able to carry out your wishes if you’re incapacitated.
First, consider your options for end of life care. What treatments or levels of care are you comfortable with? Do your religious beliefs, spiritual practice, morals, or ethics impact or limit your choices? What are your feelings about organ donation? What kinds of medical interventions are you comfortable or uncomfortable with?
Then, discuss those opinions and your decisions with the person you plan to designate as your agent for health care decisions. This is the person who will see that your wishes are carried out. You need to get their consent to act in that capacity, and need them to know what you want.
Finally, have your estate planner draw up your advanced healthcare directive. These are commonly drafted as part of your broader estate plan, or specifically in contemplation of a medical condition or procedure (before childbirth, for example). However, they can be drafted independently at any time. They are also revocable if your needs, beliefs, or circumstances change.
Granted, there’s nothing fun about thinking about or discussing these topics. It is intensely personal and uncomfortable to address issues of mortality. However, doing so can provide you with peace of mind and can also protect your loved ones from having to guess at your wishes.
When you’re ready, please consult an estate planning attorney to draft your advanced healthcare directive. Then, treat yourself to a crème brulee (or decadent dessert of your choice) in celebration of an uncomfortable, but important, job well done.