Just last week a woman called my office crying. As a Law Firm specializing in Estate Planning, Criminal Defense, and Family Law- this is not an uncommon occurrence. People usually call us in their most difficult times of need and we are happy to be here to share the burden. Last week’s call was more jarring, though, because the angst, fear, and worry behind the call could have been easily avoided. The client was calling because her cousin had suddenly gotten ill and was rushed to the hospital. With no family in Georgia, the hospital had to call the family in from New Orleans to help take care of her cousin and to make medical decisions about her cousin’s treatment. The caller was so distraught because the different family members who arrived in Georgia to “help” had varied opinions as to what should happen with the cousin’s healthcare. Would she want to remain on life support? Did she want to be fed by tubes? Even worse…what would she want to occur in the event she passes away. Cremation or a burial? They could not come to a consensus and she sought advice as to a quick legal remedy. As I tried to counsel the caller, my heart sank because I knew that these were questions that could have been answered prior to her cousin taking ill and the family would have been relieved from guessing about such serious and permanent decisions regarding her health care. The cousin was fairly young and in good health and she likely did not think she would need a document like a healthcare directive for a long time.
We often write about how Estate Planning is not just for the rich and famous and how it is not just for people who have a large estate, and last week’s call highlighted this for me. If you are a responsible adult, having a basic Estate Plan should be a part of your life like any other planning vehicle (i.e. life insurance, health insurance, retirement accounts). At the VERY least, each person should have an Advanced Healthcare Directive that is signed, legally enforceable, and accessible to your family, friends, or medical providers. Many lawyers provide this service for an extremely reasonable rate. The peace of mind afforded to you and your family, should the time ever arise where the document is needed, is invaluable.