As with all aspects of estate planning, one of the biggest mistakes that families continue to make is assuming that they will “just know” how to handle certain issues when the time comes. That includes figuring out how to divide assets, handle long-term care, and otherwise make complex end-of-life decisions. There is no need to go through any complex legal planning, the thinking goes, because our family is different or our issues are not complex.
Countless feuds, legal battles, and prolonged disputes began with that mindset. The bottom line is that it is never smart to leave any of these issues to chance. The stress and emotion tied into the decisions can make mountains out of molehills and split up even the most tight-knit family. Planning ahead and leaving no room for doubt is not only to ensure that your own wishes are fulfilled but to spare family members the struggle of deciding on their own.
This is perhaps most paramount when it comes to end of life decisions. A recent Washington Post story provides a helpful personal example of the struggle faced by families trying to decide how to handle a loved one’s health care decisions in the face of crisis.
A man describes how his mother went into the hospital for a minor illness only to have her heart stop suddenly. She was forced into a coma and put on a ventilator. Her family–adult son, daughter, and husband–were forced to sit in despair and struggle with difficult decisions. Eventually the doctors recommended that she be removed from the breathing machines; however, the medical professionals could not say with certainty what went wrong or had caused the sudden medical emergency.
The adult son was actually a health care reporter, working for some high-profile investigatory publications. He was known in the family as having, by far, the best grasp of medical issues. But in a testament to how dealing with a loved one’s medical problem on the spot is far different than thinking about it abstractly, he noted, “None of my years of reporting had prepared me for this moment, this decision. In fact, I began to question some of my assumptions about the health-care system.”
The son noted that in his past work in health care journalism he was clear in recognizing the need to base decisions not on dragging out someone’s passing, but making prudent decision about whether a certain “last” treatment will actually improve the patient’s chance of recovering. But that abstract thinking seemed out of place when he was thrown into the situation personally and asked to make end-of-life choices about his own mother.
The whole personal account is worth reading. Hopefully it will act as a spur to finally contact an estate planning lawyer to ensure your own end-of-life wishes are clear so that family can be spared agonizing trials in the event of tragedy.