Living Wills (also called "advance medical directives") are an increasingly important part of a well-devised estate plan, but they are often the part which people struggle with the most. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, a Living Will has to do with end of life decisions, not the disposition of property. Like most estate planning documents, it's critical to make your wishes known in advance and to update the document regularly because once you need the Living Will, it's usually too late for you to create or alter it.
The recent death of legendary radio star and voice actor Casey Kasem provides a useful reminder about the importance of having a clear and up-to-date Living Will. For several years, Kasem's wife had been engaged in a war of words with his children from a previous relationship. In 2007, Kasem signed a medical power of attorney document appointing his daughter and her husband, a medical doctor, to make medical decisions for him, but he also signed another medical power of attorney document in 2011, nominating his wife. Normally a valid later document will override an older one, but in this case the validity of both documents was disputed.
A court battle followed to decide who would be placed in charge of Kasem's medical decisions. The rift deepened when Kasem's degenerative illness made it impossible for him to eat, drink, and, finally, communicate. His 2007 document expressed that Kasem did not wish his life to be extended by means of food or hydration if he was mentally disabled, but his wife insisted that he would have wanted to keep going by any means. Kasem's wife even went so far as to remove him from the hospital before his tubes were removed. The court ultimately had to appoint an attorney for Mr. Kasem who visited him, consulted with his doctors, and made a report to the court. Because the judge determined that Kasem was suffering needlessly because of the continuation of food and fluids, the court ordered the treatment to be terminated.
Casey Kasem passed away peacefully after the feeding and hydration tubes were removed, but the undue strife, legal bills, and medical expenses remained. While a certain amount of conflict may be unavoidable when a person with a blended family passes away, it might have gone better for Kasem if he had clearly indicated whether the 2011 document was meant to revoke or to supplement the 2007 document. No one can predict their future with certainty so any adult can benefit from a Living Will at any age. If you are interested in discussing Living Wills or any estate planning tools, please make an appointment for a free consultation with Donaldson Stewart, P.C. today.