Planning for end of life decision-making is something most want to avoid, and yet critical for the well-being of family. Intellectually, all know they will face the end of life and associated decisions, yet planning can make it too much of a reality. I hope to explain the importance of some end of life decisions and the way to ensure the courts will recognize and respect the decisions. I will also argue why these decisions should be put in place now, as well as the care of family involved with the decisions and associated document.
In South Carolina, a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA) is one of the best ways to make enforceable end of life decisions now which can protect families from potential financial ruin (and emotional turmoil). With the HPOA, a person can give a loved one powers over decision-making in the event the person is in a medical state in which they cannot communicate and (to a reasonable degree of medical certainty) the person will not recover. This medical situation can be the result of an accident, or some kind of terminal illness in advanced stages. The key is that the person is being kept alive by artificial life sustainment (respirator, etc.) of forced hydration/nutrition (forced feeding).
The HPOA allows the person giving authority different decisions relevant to the end of life. First, the decision of whether or not they wish to donate organs after death. Next, the HPOA offers three choices with artificial life sustaining efforts (generally, this deals with pulling the plug on a respirator): 1. They can give the choice to the person they have given power of attorney. 2. They can demand that life sustaining efforts will end. 3. They can demand that life sustainment will continue indefinitely. Next, the HPOA offers the same three choices in the event of forced hydration/nutrition (forced feeding).
If clients ask for my thoughts, I generally recommend clients consider the option of giving the decisions for life sustainment and forced feeding to their power of attorney. The person with power of attorney will know all the surrounding factors to make that decision, including discussions with the person who gave power of attorney before losing the ability to communicate. That aside, this is a personal decision the person must make about the end of their life. The good of the HPOA is it prevents the person from being kept on life support against what would be their will, and potentially destroying the family's financial security in the process.
The HPOA is something people should consider when in the process of estate planning with documents like wills and Durable Power of Attorney (look to my previous articles about this Power of Attorney). These documents will display love toward family if and when they must be used. Not spending the time and effort to create the documents, and putting family in a much worse position in the event they are needed but not available, can be telling. Catastrophic personal injury accidents can occur at any time, so waiting for old age is not wise. Most general practice lawyers or Estate lawyers can draft and execute a HPOA at a relatively low cost. The time is now to get it done.