25 years ago, a 27-year-old Terry Schiavo suffered a cardiac arrest in her Florida home. The lack of oxygen left her entirely unresponsive. As Schiavo’s condition created a national conversation, attempts at revival from loved ones, doctors, experimental researchers, and activists throughout the nation proved fruitless as she remained physically incapacitated and mentally absent. After seven years of life support, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed and her life legally ended.
When Mrs. Schiavo finally passed away, she had unknowingly become a news and media icon. Her posthumous fame came from an important discussion that we tend to avoid until it is too late: Estate Planning. Schiavo’s age and relative health led her, like most others in her situation, to put off thinking about the “what-ifs.” After her heart attack, Schiavo’s husband and parents became engaged in the very public legal battle of what their beloved Terry would want—a painful discussion which could have been avoided. Suddenly everyone had a voice in Terry’s situation. Protestors at the courthouse where her family desperately fought for whichever side they fervently needed to believe was right. Newscasters who felt entitled to say that their opinion represented Terry’s own.
Had Terry created a living will, she could have spoken for herself.
These end-of-life directives are just one of the many legal documents needed to protect our own voices when we can’t speak. A financial power of attorney, another important item, allows those you trust most to ensure your finances are being handled by designated loved ones and not put in the hands of strangers who disregard your best interests. A medical Power of Attorney, similar to a medical directive, not only protects your deathbed preferences, but also allows the right people to access important information regarding your health so that appropriate decisions can be made.
A will is particularly crucial, particularly to those with children. You will name a guardian, who will play an important role in preventing the courts from arbitrarily deciding the fate of your child’s care and housing. Don’t have a child? Without a will, your most valuable possessions will be passed along an arbitrary chain of kin. Your money, your property, your heirlooms are delegated to distant relatives you may or may not have met. Without the appropriate legal documents, the people you love may be left with virtually nothing.
No one wants to talk about preparing for death. There is some comfort in knowing, though, that once our affairs are in order, we probably don’t have to talk about it again for a little while. And if that conversation must be continued, the homework will be out of the way and we are left with the comfort of knowing that our loved ones and our dignity will be protected.
The most important part of estate planning at Van Dyck Law, LLC is ensuring that our clients know that they are safe and heard. The experience of drafting these important documents is handled with compassion, kindness, and every accommodation needed. If you have not yet begun the process of planning for this next step, please reach out to Van Dyck Law at (609) 580-1044 to arrange a free consultation.