April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. NHDD is April 16 and the key goal is to encourage people to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be.

National Healthcare Decision Day is a good time to highlight the value of the Living Will/Advanced Directive

By: Dan Surprenant

I hope everyone is safe and sound, both mentally and physically, during this trying time.  As National Healthcare Decision Day approaches, I had planned on addressing this very important topic. However, in light of the Covid-19 crisis, I find it even more critical for our firm to highlight the incredible value of the Living Will / Advanced Directive.

Sadly, this virus has now directly affected people I know personally, one of those being a frail senior who may not make it. Her family is in the position in which they will need to make some important decisions about life support, ventilator and even where she will be cared for.

During this time, I want to remind people of the importance of an often-overlooked estate planning document called the Living Will which is also known as an Advanced Directive.

A Living Will is a document in which you spell out your wishes and preferences regarding medical care, such as life support and whether or not to be put on a ventilator. I knew a wonderful woman who passed a few years ago without a Living Will. She had six loving and intelligent children. She was incapacitated after a stroke and on a ventilator. With the exception of two of her six children, they decided to remove the ventilator. The two that disagreed, cared about their mother just as much as the others. However, without her wishes and direction on paper as guidance, hard feelings ensued. Disagreement over this critical decision made a difficult time even worse.

A Living Will would have provided that guidance and taken the ambiguity out of mom’s wishes. In Massachusetts, by statute, a Living Will is non-binding guidance. That means that if there are special circumstances, the person making the decisions (agent under the Health Care Proxy) is not mandated to follow the document. However, the Living Will does provide guidance and clarity over a number of issues, such as the use of pain medication, heroic measures, hydration, cremation vs. burial, location of burial, songs at the services, special thoughts, etc. It is sometimes considered a small part of an overall estate plan, but can make a huge difference when it matters most.

To further illustrate the importance of the Living Will, and Estate Planning in general, I found the following video I wish to share with you. It tells the story of a young wife who was faced with the unthinkable when her husband had a medical crisis. She shares her story as a message of encouragement to avoid procrastination and find the time to prioritize the critical act of planning. As with the Covid-19 crisis, we see how the unexpected to can happen to anyone at any time. Please take a few moments to watch this video:

I hope that the senior I mentioned above who is suffering from Covid-19 at this time, has a Living Will. I hope that you all consider, and urge your loved ones to consider, putting together a clear and detailed Living Will. This is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give to their loved ones.  

Our office is available to work with you virtually to help you craft your Living Will and the other important documents that will prepare you and your loved ones for the unknown. Just give us a call and we will walk you through our safe and efficient process. I urge you not to wait.

Please stay safe and take care of your personal well-being. Go for walks, read a good book and call a friend. I hope to see you all soon and look forward to a safe and Covid-free summer!