Estate planning is one branch of the tree called elder law, and when you are engaged in long term planning here in Atlanta the prudent course of action is to prepare for all of the possible eventualities that go along with aging. With this in mind, one of the issues that was front and center during the sometimes heated dialogue that was taking place when health care reform was being debated involved end-of-life issues such as artificial life support. Previous to this, the highly publicized case of Terri Schiavo, who was in a vegetative state and being kept alive by a feeding tube, was a topic of national debate when her husband wanted the tube removed and her parents resisted his decision in court.
The Schiavo case involved a man who was legally married to the incapacitated Terri and the tube was ultimately removed and she passed away a couple of weeks later. Had they been an unmarried couple living together in a committed relationship the law would have viewed the matter in a different way and left the choice up to her next of kin regardless of what her partner had to say about the matter.
How you feel about being kept alive via artificial means should the situation arise is your own personal choice, and you have the legal right to assert your wishes and make sure that there is no legal tug of war between your loved ones. This can be accomplished through the execution of health care directives like living wills and health care proxies. In July 2007, Georgia combined these documents into one document known as the Advance Directive for Health Care.
With the “living will” portion of the Advance Directive for Health Care, you plainly state your preferences in terms of life support or any other medical procedures you will accept or deny. The “health care proxy” portion of the Advance Directive for Health Care is used to name the person you empower to make medical decisions in the event of your incapacitation. If you are unmarried and you want your partner to have this authority, it is essential that you include an Advance Directive for Health Care as part of your estate plan.
Pyke & Associates, P.C. is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.