Most people know what a will is and what it does (it provides for the disposition of property upon one’s
death), but many folks are not familiar with what is called a living will. In Georgia, living wills are
included in an Advance Directive for Health Care, a statutory document with the stated purpose of
recognizing the right of individuals to: (1) control all aspects of his or her personal care and medical
treatment; (2) insist upon medical treatment; (3) decline medical treatment; or, (4) direct that medical
treatment be withdrawn. The living will relates with the last stated purpose.
Do you recall the Terri Schiavo story that was in the news many years ago? She was an unfortunate
individual in a permanent vegetative state; i.e., brain dead. The issue became whether to respect her
ex-husband’s wishes and allow her natural death to occur (remove the feeding tube), or honor her
parent’s wishes of keeping her on indefinite life support. The story made national headlines and
Congress even got involved. A living will takes this divisive decision away from another party and
permits an individual to make it for themselves. Given the situation surrounding Ms. Schiavo and her
family, it is easy to see how important and, frankly, helpful it can be for your loved ones to pre-make this
Included in the Advance Directive for Health Care that our firm prepares for our clients, we also appoint
a health care agent(s) to make difficult decisions should you become unable. A wise man once
explained it to me like this, imagine you’re in a coma and the doctor comes into the waiting room with
two options. First, she could perform a non-invasive surgery with a guarantee of survival, but a there’s a
20% chance that you never walk again. Option two is to bring in a specialist, which, if successful
guarantees you will walk, but there is a 10% chance you pass during surgery due to complications.
Imagine the fight that could erupt between your loved ones in this situation. Appointing a designated
health care agent precludes the arguments and puts a tough decision like this squarely in the individual
you want making the call.
Finally, the Health Care Directive ties up certain loose ends; e.g., do you want to prohibit an autopsy,
buried or cremated, organ donation status, and guardianships. We have created estate plans for many
years, and are conscientious that making decisions associated with death and disease is challenging.
However, we emphasize that doing so is also the epitome of an unselfish decision. It’s best to create a
health directive (and all other estate planning documents such as a Will and Durable Financial Power of
Attorney) while you are healthy. Accidents and unexpected illness may strike at any moment, and if you
are not prepared, you do not only harm yourself, but also do your loved ones a tremendous disservice.