Save Your Family From Having to Make a Difficult Decision
What would happen to you if you were suddenly facing the end of your life but were unable to communicate your wishes to your family or your doctors? No one wants to think about such a situation much less talk about it with those you love, but you shouldn’t simply ignore the fact that as each day passes, you are getting older. With that progression of age, the odds become greater every day that you will experience a health problem which leaves you unable to speak for yourself.
Each and every day in America, families are forced to make difficult decisions regarding a loved one’s “end-life care.” Many times, that decision becomes guesswork as to what that person would want. Such decisions have the potential to severely damage relationships between family members when disagreements arise. One need only look to the story of Terri Schiavo to see an example of how devastating disagreement and uncertainty can be to a family. No matter where you stand on the issue, the fact remains that it should not have happened the way it did. But what could have been done? Bringing clarity to the situation is as simple as preparing a legal document called a living will.
The Florida Legislature has determined that every competent adult has the fundamental right to make decisions about his own health. This right includes the ability to make a decision to accept or refuse medical treatment which would prolong his life in an “end-life” situation (i.e. when recovery is not expected). Because the legislature recognized that planning for these decisions is important, provision is made for a competent adult to make a written declaration in order to make his desires known. There are several requirements which must be met under Florida law for this document to be valid. Once valid, it is the individual’s responsibility to make those wishes known to his physician by distributing a copy to be included in his chart.
Additionally, one may delegate authority to another individual as his Health Care Surrogate who would have the authority to make all health care decisions during any period of incapacity. That person would be responsible to follow the directives specified in the living will provided it was valid in compliance with Florida law.
Given the tremendous importance of both drafting a living will and designating a Health Care Surrogate, we always recommend that these documents be prepared by a qualified attorney. Alternatively, forms are available that allow one to prepare these documents on his own; however, extreme caution should be taken to assure that the document and its execution comply with Florida law.
By making your wishes known ahead of time, you will give your family great peace that they knew what you wanted should such a situation ever arise. It is important to sit down and discuss this topic with your family before, during or after making your living will. I once heard a simple but profound statement regarding a living will: a decision like this should be made in the family room and not the emergency room. One final word of caution, every competent adult should prepare a living will. No matter your age, your health can change very quickly. I hope you will protect your family by making your wishes known by preparing a living will.
DISCLAIMER – Nothing in this informational public service article should be construed as giving legal advice and should not be acted upon without first consulting an attorney. Also, this article should not be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship.