“It ain’t Over till It’s Over”
– Yogi Berra
I had a client call me Dr. Death the other day. I pointed out that I am not a real doctor, as I don’t have the right degree, and also said that just because I help people plan for what happens to their assets after they die, that doesn’t mean I am trying to get rid of them. In fact, quite the opposite is true – I want my clients to live long and happy lives, not using the documents I created for decades after the documents are written. If my clients live a long and happy life, what use do they have for my services? Plenty.
Estate planning is not just for what happens to assets when you die. It also includes planning for what happens on the way there, which some people refer to as end of life planning. Planning for the end of life seems a bit of a misnomer to me, so I refer to this as planning for your life.
Planning for the rest of your life includes anticipating situations that may come up, like times that you are unable to make your own decisions, or if you need long term care. Many times, an inability to make a decision is a temporary thing, like if you are hurt badly in an accident, or undergo surgery, but sometimes more permanent things like Alzheimer’s or Dementia come into play. When you are unable to understand the decisions you make, or their consequences, you cannot make good decisions.
Power of Attorney
Planning for these situations includes setting up a Power of Attorney, or formally giving someone else written permission to make decisions for you when you are unable to make the decisions yourself. Powers of Attorney can be for medical decisions, financial decisions, or for specific purposes. Powers of Attorney can be set up while you are fully mentally competent to choose who will decide for you if you are not. Certainly picking who can make those decisions for you is an important thing to set up when you know what you are doing, before a crisis hits.
The middle of a crisis is a bad place to try and plan ahead. I have been to the ICU to get things signed, but that is always a dicey way to handle estate plans.
People make strange decisions in crisis situations, decisions that are open to questioning and second guessing, like in my example here: I read a story of a hunter from Illinois several years ago. He had been accidentally shot and was paralyzed from the chest down. He was only being kept alive by life support. The doctors were able to wake him up and ask if he wanted to live like this. He said, “No,” and asked not be put back under sedation, but rather choose to spend the last couple of hours of his life with his family, talking to them, before we passed on. It was incredible that he was able to be awake and alert enough make this decision when he was so badly injured.
Importance of a Living Will
Not everyone has that option when they are on life support. Instead of hoping to be pulled out of that state, planning for life includes deciding what type of life that means. A living will allows a person to make their own wishes known concerning the end of life, and whether or not they want to live on life support, which may not have the same quality of life that someone wants. A living will could be properly called the, “Do we pull the plug, or not?” document. However, a living will sounds so much nicer, kinder, and gentler.
Certainly this is a strange decision and conversation to have, and it can be uncomfortable, but making your own decision is better than burdening your family. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you have these conversations, so that you don’t need to dwell on them, or have the decision hanging over you. Let me help you have this important conversation, and let me help you plan for the rest of your life. Make an appointment for a free consultation today!