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Estate Planning: Resuscitating Healthcare Directives

Estate planning with use of the advance health care directives allows you to detail end-of-life wishes

Directing End-of-Life Medical Preferences

One of the main goals of estate planning is to ensure end-of-life healthcare decisions are honored. Creating an advance health care directive as part of your estate planning scheme does just that. An advance directive allows you to name an agent to carry out your healthcare wishes in the event of your incapacitation and on death. While most people want to control their healthcare, setting up estate planning documents including directives for medical care inevitably leads to thinking about death and illness – not necessarily light dinner focal points. A properly executed estate planning scheme with a healthcare power in place not only allows you to spell-out your wishes in the event your become incapacitated from a stroke or heart attack, for instance, it also allows you to detail after-life care. Do you want to be cremated or buried? What about your funeral. Something extravagant? You diva, you… Quaint family get together? Or perhaps my favorite – a Viking funeral..? You can specifically detail your end-of-life healthcare wishes in a healthcare directive, which provides you peace of mind now and closure for your family in the future. Despite the importance only 36% of people die with their end-of-life medical care mapped out in writing.

My advice. Accept your fate. Death is part of life. Failing to create a comprehensive estate planning package with a health care directive in place may cause you to undergo medical treatments or meet the Grim Reaper in a way that is contrary to your philosophical, moral and/or religious beliefs. This is partly because most people don’t die in the warmth and comfort of their home and in the presence of the loved-ones that know their medical wishes. Rather, up to 70% of people die in hospitals. Even more alarming is that many of these people receive ineffective or undesired treatments including DNR orders (up to 80% of people that die in the hospital) because their wishes are unknown.

The consequences of failing to have a healthcare power in place as part of your estate planning package was never better illustrated than in the famous case of Terri Shiavo. This case exemplified how family and friends of the ill become embroiled in bitter arguments over the best or proper care for the patient. The problem. The patient’s true desires are often shrouded and lost amidst the legal arguments and litigation. Worse yet is the lost time spent with your loved one in their final stages of life. It’s a time to say good-bye, not a time to file suit.

Estate Planning DNR & Organ Orders

Estate planning for healthcare - covering the melting pot of different needs and desiresAside from complying with HIPAA and CMIA the two most important provisions of health care directives in California concern life sustaining treatment (or DNR) and organ donation.


We’ve all seen the dramatic scenes play out on T.V. The melodic tone of the ventilator chimes like a metronome. Beep… Beep… Beep… The Doctor regrettably informs the family that there’s no sign of life. The question is asked. Do you want to pull the plug? Someone has to make the decision. Gulp. The reality is that many people will find themselves or their family members in this exact scenario at some point in their lives. Having a healthcare directive as part of your estate planning scheme removes the uncertainty regarding your wishes for life-prolonging measures (ACLS or CPR). This allows your family to make decisions when you’re unable to do so.

Organ Donation – Take it or Leave it

Another extremely important provision of California healthcare powers concern organ donation. Your healthcare directive can detail what organ(s), if any, you want to donate.

Great! You’ve finished your estate planning docs including your healthcare directive. Now what? Time for vacation. No. Remember from previous posts that the law is always in flux especially with regards to directives for healthcare. We recommend revisiting your estate planning documentation at least every five years.






About Sean Hanley

Practicing law since 2007, Sean specializes in the ever-changing laws related to real estate, business and estate planning. Embracing technology with a focus on personalized service, he understands the challenges of living and thriving in Silicon Valley. Tapping into his education in economics and business administration, Sean also serves on the non-profit Willow Glen Business Association.

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