Back in the early 2000s, Florida made headlines as the country watched the case of Terri Schiavo. After suffering severe brain damage and living in a persistent vegetative state, decisions over Schiavo’s medical care became a huge legal and emotional struggle for Schiavo’s friends and family.
Why? Because she didn’t have a living will.
We never think that we’re going to end up in a vegetative state or suffer severe brain trauma, but neither did Mrs. Schiavo. Drafting a living will allows you the peace of mind of knowing that if something tragic were to happen to you, you can communicate your wishes to your family and loved ones.
A living will is different from the wills we typically think of. It does not distribute your estate after your death. A living will simply tells your loved ones and family members what medical care you want to receive when you cannot make decisions for yourself.
Think about the following forms of care when writing your living will:
Life Support – The biggest decision of the Schiavo case involved the decision to keep Terri on artificial life support. Whether or not you want this is crucial information to include in your living will, because it could make the decision between life and death. Would you want to be hooked up to life support if you were in an accident like Terri’s?
Medical Care Decisions – The Schiavo case did not just involve the decision to be on artificial life support. Arguments between Terri’s husband and her parents ranged from the use of antibiotics to obtaining a do-not-resuscitate order. When writing your living will, consider requesting the following medical procedures:
- Blood transfusions
- Drug and antibiotic administration
- Respirator use
The more thorough your living will is, the more answers your family and loved ones will have in different medical situations.
Decisions about Food and Water – In a state in which you cannot properly consume or digest food, you may still be able to live while being feed through an IV. Some people, however, do not like the idea of living through this method. Be sure to include information about receiving food and water through an IV in case you are reduced to those options.
Palliative Care – If you do choose to stay alive as long as you can, you may want to consider palliative care instructions in your living will. Palliative care will help reduce any physical pain. While the most common form of palliative care is through medication, you may also request methods like acupuncture, hypnosis, or massage therapy.
About Power of Attorney
A living will is a document that outlines your preferences for health care. As thorough as you may be in your living will, you may still face unexpected health care issues and leave your loved ones in a debate over what to do. A power of attorney can stop these arguments before they start.
This document allows you to choose the person who has legal authority over your healthcare decisions. In Florida, this form is officially called a “designation of health care surrogate.” A surrogate will make decisions when your living will does not.
Creating a living will and designating a health care surrogate are only two estate planning procedures that will help you prepare for your future and your family’s future after you pass away. For more information about living wills, as well as information about wills, trusts, and estate planning, contact a Florida estate planning attorney today.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.