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Estate Planning Basics: The Advance Directive (a.k.a. Living Will)

Posted by attorney Matthew Karr

An advance directive, also known as a living will, works in conjunction with a health care proxy by expressing your wishes as to how your designated agent should proceed in certain specific circumstances such as how and when you wish to receive medical treatment in the event of a terminal illness. A living will allows your family to avoid having to make difficult decisions about your medical care on their own.

Although an advance directive is not legally binding in Massachusetts, it is an important part of the basic estate plan because it expresses your wishes in detail so that your loved one is not left to guess how you would want them to proceed. Just think: would you want to make a life-or-death decision without knowing your loved one’s true wishes?

A perfect, albeit tragic, example of why this is so important is the now infamous Terri Schiavo case. In that case, Terri was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state for several years. Terri’s husband wanted the hospital to remove her feeding tube because he did not believe she would have wanted to continue that way. Terri’s parents, however, felt differently. Eventually, Terri’s husband had to take the matter to court, undergoing a long, painful process (not to mention expensive) before he could finally carry out what he believed would be Terri’s wishes.

Regardless of how you view the outcome of that case, the message is clear: planning ahead and letting your wishes be known is crucial for the well-being, both emotionally and financially, of yourself and your family.

Contact an estate planning attorney to discuss how you can ensure that your family has your support when they need it most.

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