Some people find it difficult to plan for the day they may become incapacitated and unable to make decisions on their own behalf. But designating someone to make those medical decisions is critical for their well-being and having end-of-life wishes carried out. Having an advance healthcare directive is essential to ensure that you receive the type of care you desire when you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. This directive is a document that makes provisions for that healthcare, and there are two main types—a living will and a durable power of attorney for healthcare.
Lamar Odom’s Health Scare Highlights the Need for Planning
The importance of healthcare advance planning was highlighted recently when former NBA star Lamar Odom was found unconscious. Because Odom did not have a living will, his son-to-be ex-wife, Khloe Kardashian, became responsible for making his medical decisions. Although the couple had signed divorce papers months earlier, a backlog in California courts left them still legally married. Had Odom created a living will, the decision to divorce may have caused him to designate someone other than Kardashian to be responsible for his healthcare decisions.
Odom’s health scare underscores the need for an advance healthcare directive. Without one, you leave critical decisions to chance. By outlining your medical care wishes, an advance healthcare directive ensures you receive the type of care you desire in case of a serious illness or a near-death situation
An Advance Healthcare Directive Has Two Basic Components
When you establish an advance healthcare directive, you usually create two basic documents: a living will and a durable power of attorney. Here is a brief overview of these documents:
- Living will. A living will enables you to specify preferences for your end-of-life care. For example, you can provide instructions that include a do-not-resuscitate order; you can address whether or not you want “heroic measures” taken to sustain your life; and you can state your pain management preferences.
- Durable power of attorney for healthcare. Durable power of attorney is a document that appoints someone to make decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. Normally, this would be a family member or a trusted friend. Without this, a court may appoint someone to make those decisions—possibly a stranger or an estranged spouse. A durable power of attorney is unlike most living wills because the signer isn’t required to have a terminal illness.
These components are executed together because your living will cannot cover every circumstance. Consequently, the person who has durable power of attorney for healthcare can make decisions not covered by your living will.
Why Planning Ahead Is Critical
Although it may be difficult to discuss end-of-life care, accidents happen and illnesses occur. Having an advance healthcare directive can provide peace of mind, knowing that you’ve prepared for the future or the possibility of an emergency—a time when you might be especially vulnerable or incapacitated.
Odom’s case presents two key points about the importance of advance healthcare planning: why it’s critical to name a specific person to make decisions for your care, and why you should update your legal documents soon after any major life event, including divorce. Even though Odom was not officially divorced from Kardashian, the couple had signed a divorce settlement and was waiting for the paperwork to be finalized. Because of the decision to divorce, Odom may not have wanted Kardashian to be responsible for his healthcare decisions; however, because he had no living will that could have named someone else, Kardashian was the legally responsible party.
When a couple legally ends a marriage, both parties are freed from many of the legal responsibilities they have to each other. But an ex-spouse’s name may still be cited on healthcare and other legal documents. As soon as you complete this major life change, it’s imperative that you make necessary changes to these documents, so the right person is designated to make your healthcare decisions.
An advance healthcare directive is an essential part of your estate plan. We can help ensure you are prepared, and we encourage you to contact us today at (714) 459-5481 for more information.