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The Scary Reality of Living Without A Living Will

Living Wills are meant to guide end-of-life decision making.  Among other things, these documents permit individuals to express their wish to be resuscitated or not, should their hearts stop beating and they stop breathing.   

Close to home 

An article that appeared recently at www.wealthadvisor.com entitled “You may have signed a living will, but scary mistakes can happen at the ER” caught my attention for several reasons.  Two years ago, after my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall, I honored his wish, expressed in his Living Will, that he not be resuscitated if he were to be in a persistent vegetative state.  And, now I am in the process of refreshing my own Advance Medical Directive that includes a Living Will.  The article serves as a cautionary reminder that misunderstandings by medical staff when interpreting Living Wills are all too common.  

Scary, but true 

Just how frequent are these mix-ups? The article cites research by Ferdinando Mirarchi, Medical Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, and others and includes a number of cautionary tales and disturbing errors (both hypothetical and real-life situations). Mirarchi suggests that the potential for the confusion surrounding end-of-life documents is considerable.  

In one study, Mirarchi posed the following hypothetical event to more than 700 physicians: An otherwise healthy 46-year-old woman suffers a heart attack, is brought to the emergency room, and goes into cardiac arrest. Her Living Will includes a DNR order. Only 43% of doctors said they would intervene to save the woman’s life.

A troubling figure, especially because every physician should have been willing to offer aggressive treatment. This patient’s Living Will didn’t apply to the situation at hand, since she didn’t have a terminal condition.

What Should You Do? 

Some steps that you can take to ensure your wishes are honored are: 

  1. Make sure your paperwork is in place before anything happens. 
    • Designate your healthcare proxy–the person authorized to make decisions about your care when you are unable. 
    • Fill out an advance medical directive according to your state’s requirements. 
  1. Have that tough conversation.
    • Have in-depth discussions about your medical directive with relevant parties, including your healthcare proxy, immediate family, medical providers, attorney, and financial planner. Update your documents. 
  2. Update Your Documents
    • Any time your needs or medical condition changes, update your directives. 

The consensus is that you are more likely to have your wishes followed with one of these documents than without one. In addition, you are more likely to have your wishes followed, if the family members and/or friends you have named in the documents understand your wishes. 

Do you have a comprehensive estate plan in place to provide peace of mind that your wishes will be honored? FJY Financial can help you design a plan customized for your personal goals and circumstances.