Anyone remember the Terri Shiavo case in Florida in the 2000s? You may remember the name but have forgotten the details. Terri went into cardiac arrest and survived but was left in a vegetative state due to a lack of oxygen to her brain during the incident. Her husband and legal guardian felt strongly that Terri would have wanted to remove life support and her parents wanted to keep her alive. A huge legal battle ensued with lots of back and forth and eventually Terri’s feeding tube was removed and she died in 2005. Much of this could have been avoided with an advanced directive or “living will” and many states enacted laws after this making it easier for people to have a directive in place.
An advanced directive is a legal document that designates an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so and also sets forth your wishes regarding maintaining or removing life support. An advanced directive also states your preference for a guardian if you were to ever need a court appointed guardian. These documents are also called “living wills.” This can create a lot of confusion when someone is putting together an estate plan and trying to differentiate between a living trust, a last will and testament and a living will.
In Utah, the state legislature made a standard form for advanced directives. Although you do not have to use this form, most hospitals and doctors are used to seeing it and comfortable using it. If you use a custom form, it may end up in the black hole of having a hospital’s legal counsel review it. Typically and advanced directive is part of any estate plan.
However, since you can do it yourself and it just needs to be witnessed by someone else (not a relative or someone listed as your agent) you can easily have something in place just in case, even if you do not do the other estate planning documents right now, it won’t cost you a dime and could save those you love a lot of heartache.