The Right Legal Documents Play a Key Role in Your Financial Road Map

Banff, Canada

In this very personal letter to his clients, estate planning attorney Cory Wessman, shares why a well thought out healthcare directive is such an important part of your financial road map.


Posted with permission from the offices of Erickson & Wessman, Attorneys At Law:

In the early morning hours of Friday, November 30th, I received the most unwelcome call from my father.  “It’s your brother, Scott….he was found unresponsive and is in a medically-induced coma.  We don’t know if he will make it.”

This call came on the heels of other bad news, received just two days previously, that my wife, Heather, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Heather has since had a double mastectomy, and is on the road to recovery.

While we will continue to meet with an oncologist and otherwise monitor her health, I am so glad to report that she is currently cancer free!  By God’s mercy, and in accordance with the prayers of many friends and family members, I am happy to report that my brother Scott has come out of his coma, and is likewise on the road to recovery.

This whirlwind of family medical drama over the past two months has caused me to consider anew the importance of health care planning for my clients. In a recent national survey, it was reported that only 26% of adults have completed any sort of a health care directive.

While there are some reported instances in which a health care directive was not followed, my professional experience has mainly been very positive.  In fact, many of clients implement a health care directive for themselves precisely because their parents took it upon themselves to give direction for their care.

A Health Care Directive accomplishes the following three important objectives:

Appointment of Health Care Agent.  If you are unable to make your own health care decisions, the “Health Care Agent” you appoint could then make those decisions on your behalf.  The key attributes of a health care agent are: (1) his or her desire and willingness to follow your wishes, (2) an ability and willingness to communicate effectively with your family; and (3) to advocate your position with health care providers.

Sharing of Medical Information.  By reason of federal “HIPAA” regulations, it may be difficult for your family members to obtain your medical records to make an informed decision in the absence of a written release.  As part of the health care directive, your agent should be provided this authorization to receive your medical records.  In fact, over the past few years, our firm has assisted the young adult children of our clients with health care directives so that our clients could gain access to medical records of young adult children.

Living Will.  Finally, many of my clients give specific direction as to the type of medical care they would like to receive if they are unable to express their own wishes.  While many of my clients have conversations with their agents about these matters, it is wise to place these directions in writing.  This is particularly important for end-of-life planning to address the following types of questions and issues:

  • Would you like to receive artificial nutrition and hydration?
  • Would you like to receive (or avoid) treatments such as mechanical ventilation, antibiotics, tube feeding?  If so, how long should you receive these treatments?
  • Would you like to spend your final days at home, where you may not receive the same level of care, or at an assisted living facility that may provide a greater level of care, including pain management?

You can provide a great service to your clients by encouraging them to consider health care planning.  For the “Do It Yourself” clients, they can prepare and sign a Health Care Directive on their own.  The Minnesota form can be found here.

In a recent excellent article, Dr. Kathryn Butler writes, “While poetic metaphors may appeal to our hearts, they falter when we meet a mechanical ventilator, chest compressions, and feeding tubes.”

Dr. Butler emphasizes that not only do your family members benefit from receiving clarity as to the type of care you would like to receive, but the entire exercise provides a perspective to you and your family on various existential questions related to your life purposes, suffering, and related religious values.

For those of us who believe that God uses suffering to not only change our character, but also to positively impact friends and family members around us, we should give careful consideration to how we view our own end-of-life care.

As advisors, we should encourage our clients to give thoughtful consideration to these issues, have the appropriate legal documents in place, and to have these important conversations with their family.

On a personal level, I want to thank so many of my colleagues and clients for their prayers, emails, and cards related to Heather’s recent diagnosis.  We feel very blessed that we live in such a caring and supporting community.  As always, we are happy to answer questions and provide insight not only on health care directive planning, but also other estate planning matters. In the meantime, stay warm this weekend!

Cory Wessman