When a loved one is incapacitated, it can be difficult to make even the most simplistic decisions, let alone decisions that directly affect the medical treatment of the loved one. Having the burden of deciding health care matters for someone else is an emotionally difficult position to be in, and families and loved ones are often caught up in heated arguments concerning a patient’s care.
In Florida, this situation is well-known due to the highly publicized case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was sustained artificially for 15 years (1990-2005). Ms. Schiavo’s husband fought a public legal battle with her parents and siblings to determine whether the medical treatment should end. The case was sad and very emotional for the millions of Americans who learned about the situation on the news, but it was an even more heart-wrenching experience for those directly involved. Had Ms. Schiavo created a living will during her life, it would not have been necessary for her loved ones to fight over making medical treatment decisions.
Drafting & Reviewing a Living Will with a Gainesville Attorney
At Shigo Law Firm, our estate planning attorneys draft and review living wills for clients who want to be prepared for end-of-life decisions. While there are some stipulations and conditions that must be met in the State of Florida for a living will to be valid, it is important to plan for the unexpected. A will only comes into effect once a person has died. A living will, however, can guide those who are responsible for making medical treatment decisions for a person who is unable to make decisions on their own. Similar to other estate planning processes, a person must be of sound mind when creating a living will.
A living will can be effective if the maker of the will is in a vegetative state or declared brain dead, or if artificial sustainment is necessary, such as a feeding tube or respirator. A living will can also dictate whether the maker wishes to be resuscitated if he or she stops breathing.
What is a “living will”?
A living will is a document that advises doctors, health care providers and family members on making decisions about a person’s medical treatment or health care when the person is unable to do so. However, in Florida, a living will is only effective if certain criteria are met. A living will can be effective if the person is both physically and mentally incapacitated, and if the person’s doctor and another doctor agree, that further medical treatment will most likely only prolong the dying process.
A living will differs from a legal will in that it does not dispose of personal assets or assign a personal representative. However, a living will can assign a Health Care Surrogate who acts to make health care related decisions for the maker of the will. The general topics of a living will include who the maker wants to be responsible for health care decisions, the types of medical treatments and care the maker wants or doesn’t want, the level of comfort the maker wants, how the maker wants to be treated by others, and any information the maker wants to convey to his or her family and friends.
Living wills must be signed in front of two witnesses who have no financial gain from the death of the maker of the will. Spouses and blood relatives cannot serve as witnesses to the signing of a living will. If the maker of the living will is unable to sign, one of the present witnesses may sign in the maker’s presence.
Health Care Surrogate Responsibilities
The process of choosing a Health Care Surrogate can be difficult. We advise our clients to trust someone who can take on the responsibility of researching end-of-life care and medical procedures so that they can make informed decisions. An Alternate Surrogate may be designated in a living will document if a Health Care Surrogate is unable or unwilling to perform the necessary duties.
A Health Care Surrogate must be able to consult with health care providers about the maker’s care and treatment options, and he or she is responsible for making decisions that he/she believes are in line with what the maker would want. Because it is impossible to anticipate every type of situation, a situation may arise in which it is not possible to determine what decision the maker would have chosen. In this situation, Health Care Surrogates must use their best judgment in determining a course of action.
Can I create my own living will?
There are many blank forms available online for creating a living will and designating a Health Care Surrogate. However, these forms are not ideal for every client. These types of downloadable forms only include the very basic fields required by Florida laws and statutes. Online forms cannot legally provide for other provisions that a maker may require, and these forms cannot be altered.
Consult an Experienced Living Will Attorney
In order to ensure you are taken care of in severe medical situations, our estate planning attorneys of Shigo Law Firm recommend drafting a living will with an experienced attorney. Any competent adult can create a living will once he or she has reached the age of 18, so it is never too early to begin planning for your estate. Because each client’s estate planning process is different, and each client’s end-of-life wishes vary, it is important to consult with an estate planning attorney in Gainesville who can create a living will that is specific to your needs. Don’t leave your loved ones guessing at your beliefs, desires and wishes. Help them make the decisions that you would make during such difficult times. Draft, revise or revoke your living will with the Shigo Law Firm, P.A.