The Importance of Estate Planning

It cannot be emphasized enough that the costs of denying the importance of estate planning are great. Chances are, you have heard about the tragic situation in which Terri Schiavo and her family found themselves after she suffered a heart attack in her home at the age of 26.  She lived in a vegetative state for the next 15 years.

What you may not have heard about is the prolonged legal battle that lasted these 15 years.  Eight years after Terri’s collapse in her St. Petersburg, Florida home, Terri’s husband petitioned the court to remove her feeding tube.  Her parents opposed the petition.  On April 24, 2001, her feeding tube was removed, but it was reinserted several days later after a legal battle.  After numerous appeals and government intervention, the court held that Terri’s feeding tube should be disconnected. Terri died on March 31, 2005.  Terri did not have a healthcare directive.

Terri’s case involved 14 appeals, numerous motions, petitions, and hearings, five lawsuits, state and federal legislation, and four petitions to the United States Supreme Court.  The costs involved in Terri’s case were astronomically high.

Just a few days ago, a woman in India died after 42 years in a coma after a brutal attack when she was 26 years old.  Indian laws and legal documents are different than in the United States, but the financial, legal, and moral implications are the same.

I have a good friend named Ann McIntosh, M.D. who is an emergency physician.  Dr. McIntosh tells me story after story about patients who come to the emergency department with severe injuries or grave conditions.  Dr. McIntosh is forced to question these patients’ family members about whether the family member would have wanted their life prolonged.  Many family members simply do not know, and their ability to make these decisions at that time is significantly impaired by their shock, grief, and emotional distress.

I also recently encountered the story of a man who was involved in a severe car accident.  He was taken to the emergency department, where his ex-wife was the person in the room making major decisions about his end-of-life care.  This man had recently gone through a terribly contentious divorce with his ex-wife, and his mother and fiance were distraught that his ex-wife was the person in charge of these decisions.  Nothing was to be done at that point.

None of us likes to think about the end of our lives.  But the fact of the matter is that the ends of our lives won’t be pretty, and possibly come unexpectedly.  The grief our loved ones will experience is distress enough.  Save them the horror of having to make decisions on your behalf without your input, and be proactive with estate planning.

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