ElderLaw News — The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. — MD, VA, DC
ElderLaw News

ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

New Thoughts about Living Wills

(Summary of Wall Street Journal Article "A New Look at Living Wills," by Laura Johannes, June 8, 2012)

Just when you thought you had the answer to how to handle a loved one’s health emergencies, experience is telling us that end-of-life care planning may not be so simple. Even if one has a Living Will, situations can arise that were not anticipated. Some advisers are even recommending abandoning the Living Will in favor of appointing a family member or friend as your health-care agent. What state you live in can also complicate the matter.

What are the some of the problems with Living Wills? The number one problem is that they are too vague. For instance, a Living Will may specify that life support will be withdrawn when there is "no reasonable expectation of regaining a ‘meaningful quality of life.’ " What does that mean? Does that mean you can no longer walk, can no longer feed yourself, that you are only semi-conscious for long periods of the day? The medical condition that results after a health crisis sometimes is severe initially, but can improve with time or it may not change much at all over the long-term. One can see where problems can arise.

Another problem is that it is very difficult for doctors to accurately diagnose the outcome of a health care crisis. Lee H. Schwamm, vice chairman of the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, readily admits this fact. He says that when predicting how a patient will fare after a stroke, "he is wrong 15% to 20% of the time on major outcome measures, such as whether a patient will be able to walk again."

So what should you do? In addition to the Living Will, make sure you appoint a family member to act when situations arise which are not covered by the Living Will. Also, make sure you have communicated to that family member under which conditions you want to be kept alive, and under what conditions you would find continued living intolerable. Family members, it turns out, are extremely accurate in predicting a designee’s wishes. In a 400-patient study published in 2001, the University of Michigan’s Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine found that, "family members who were presented with nine hypothetical scenarios correctly predicted patient wishes about 70% of the time, whether or not the patient had filled out a living will."

Finally, read and keep up-to-date on trends on the subject of end-of-life care. New developments are happening constantly. A new type of living will which offers more specificity is called the "Five Wishes" living will. It is available from agingwithdignity.org. And it is easy to understand. It is written at a 6th-7th grade reading level, according to Paul Malley, President of Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit organization that disseminates the document.

You will do the best for your loved one if you are well-prepared for the end-of-life event that awaits all of us.

The attorneys at The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm can assist clients with their estate, financial, insurance, long-term care, and veterans’ benefits planning needs.


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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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