Just as Dorothy expressed her fear and apprehension in Oz during her encounter with lions and tigers and bears (Oh My!), we all feel the same way when confronted with Living Wills, Do Not Resuscitate Orders (“DNRs”) and Power of Attorney forms (“POAs”). First off, no one wants to think about dying. We’re all programmed to live for today, which is a great mindset to have until we’re faced with an event we weren’t prepared for. Just like everything in life, we need a balance. A balance of living for today and planning for our futures. Taking a small amount of time now to plan and prepare for the inevitable will not only give you peace of mind, but it will provide a peace of mind for your family.
Let’s start with the basic estate planning documents you would create when you meet with an attorney: (1) Last Will and Testament (“Will”); (2) Statutory (aka financial) Power of Attorney (“Financial POA”); (3) Health Care Power of Attorney (“Health Care POA”); and (4) Living Will. Everyone needs these basic documents in place…no matter how much or how little assets you own. A Will names your executor who will handle your estate in probate court and contains a specific provision to waive bond. If you don’t have a Will, the person who applies to the Court to administer your estate now has to dig into their pocketbooks to post a bond through an insurance agency. A Will makes your family’s life easier by specifying where all the property goes and can avoid future conflicts.
Next, your Financial POA allows your named agent to assist and facilitate financial transactions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so yourself. Let’s say you break your writing hand and cannot use your other hand, your agent can sign that check for you. A Health Care POA operates in a similar way – if you’re unconscious and unable to make a decision on your treatment, your agent has the authority to do so for you.
And, of course, there is the Living Will. A Living Will gives the named agent the authority to remove you from life sustaining equipment (ex. feeding tubes and ventilators) ONLY when you are permanently unconscious or in an incurable and untreatable condition. At least two physicians must examine you and agree that you have totally lost higher brain function or that no recovery is possible and death is likely to occur within a short period of time after removal from all equipment. Wait, so does that mean a Do Not Resuscitate Order is in effect? NO…a DNR is a completely separate document from a Living Will and is rarely a document included in the “standard estate planning package”. Here’s why…unless you are in a terminal and incurable state, you typically want to be revived if you have a heart attack or small stroke. These types of medical events can happen at any age, so it would not be practical for an average 60 year old to need a DNR at that stage in their life. Now, if that same 60 year old is diagnosed with an incurable condition, then they may want to opt for the DNR.
So, where do you get a DNR? Short answer is from your physician. You can download the form online, but your physician must sign the order. After execution, you’ll want to keep a copy of the order on your refrigerator for paramedics to access and keep a copy on file with your physicians. If you’re ever asked whether you have a DNR, think about where the document came from…if it came from your attorney, then it’s a Living Will. If it came from your doctor, then you have a DNR. Knowing these distinctions can help you and your family prepare and make informed decisions.
For questions on creating or reviewing your estate plan, call attorney Jennifer Ramon with Anspach Law at (419) 246-5757. Check out Jennifer’s profile at https://www.anspachlaw.com/jennifer-l-ramon for more information.