An Advance Health Care Directive is a frequently-overlooked part of the estate planning process. In some states, an Advance Health Care Directive (also sometimes called a “Living Will”) is combined with a Health Care Power of Attorney document. The directive expresses the client’s wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. Unfortunately, it is a reality that all of us will die. We can each choose whether we wish to extend our lives by every means possible, or have a shorter life that may have more dignity. It is best for the client to consider and state their wishes on these decisions before the decisions are relevant.
If a client is in a terminal condition, in addition to their Advance Health Care Directive, the client will want to speak with their physician about “no code” orders. In some states, a Physician’s Order on Life-Sustaining Treatment, or “POLST,” might be appropriate.
As estate planning attorneys, our role is to help clients plan for their incapacity and their death, including end-of-life decisions. We cannot prevent bad things from happening to our clients. They will happen, just as surely as we are mortal. However, we can help them prepare for the bad things that will come their way and thereby reduce the negative impact, both financially and emotionally. Here is a great article from the Wall Street Journal that conveys the importance of end-of-life planning.
The article demonstrates how proper planning may alleviate a great deal of suffering, not only of our client, but of those closest to them, as well. It reminds us that planning to whom and how assets are passed is only a minor part of estate planning, just as money is only a small part of life. The most important things in life aren’t things. The most important things in life are the cherished memories and special moments that the family will treasure throughout their lives. An Advance Health Care Directive allows the client to decide how they will spend their final days. They may choose to spend it battling for extra time on the clock of life. They may choose to spend it at home with friends and family. Stress is reduced for everyone if that decision is made and communicated before it becomes relevant.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555