Prudent estate planning must include a key document besides the expected Wills, General Powers of Attorney and Trust Instruments. Often overlooked is the preparation of an Advance Directive naming a health care decision maker should you be unable to make decisions for yourself. This document will ensure that in the midst of a health crisis, the individual that you have chosen as your spokesperson can carry out your wishes as you have expressed to them both verbally and in writing.
A recent Washington Post article relayed the story of a man who suffered a fatal brain anuerysm and was being kept alive on life support. He was a perfect candidate for organ donation, but did not have an Advance Directive naming someone to make the decision to continue the life support for an extra day to accomplish the donation. Although by law, his next of kin was allowed to step in and make these decisions for him, in this case it fell on the shoulders of his 23 year old daughter – an only child. While she was able to rise to the occasion with the help of a trusted aunt and uncle, thought must be given as to who should make these decisions for you and whether they have the maturity and the ability to carry out your wishes.
Fortunately, the hospital staff worked with the family and allowed the aunt and uncle to assist the daughter. It would have been better, however, for the patient to have authorized the aunt and uncle to help with the decision-making process and also for the patient to have authorized organ donation. An Advance Directive gives you the ability to make sure that your wishes are known and that there is an appropriate person or persons designated to carry out those wishes.