Living Wills

In a recent post, I discussed health care representatives as a tool that adults may use to plan for incapacity. Another tool that may be used along with an appointment of health care representative is the advance health care directive, commonly known as a Living Will.

Of course, as long as someone is able to understand their medical condition and can communicate with their health care providers, there is no need for a health care representative or Living Will. It’s when someone can’t actively take part in health care decision-making that a Living Will and health care representative may be useful.

Effective October 1, 2006, Connecticut law allows Living Wills to include direction on any aspect of a person’s own health care. Previously, Living Wills were limited to direction regarding life support only.

A Living Will is a written document. It directs a physician or other health care professional to provide or to not provide medical, surgical or other measures should a terminally ill patient become incapacitated.

A Living Will must be prepared and signed well before incapacity strikes. Once someone becomes incapacitated, it’s not possible for him or her to effectively execute a Living Will. Certain formalities must be observed or the Living Will won’t be valid. A “do it yourself” approach is not recommended. I’ve seen situations as a Probate Judge where a well-meaning friend or relative “drafted” a Living Will, which was then signed. Because the Living Will document was not correctly understood, the patient’s “wishes” were the exact opposite of what the Living Will indicated.

In Connecticut, physicians and licensed medical facilities are granted immunity from criminal and civil liability should they remove or withhold life saving or life-sustaining measures for incapacitated patients who are permanently unconscious. In order for this liability protection to apply, however, a number of requirements must be in place. One of them is that the physician or medical facility considers the patient’s wishes.   A Living Will is one way to document and communicate your wishes to others.

In addition to a Living Will, there are other ways you can communicate what measures you would and would not want should you become unconscious. Discuss your wishes with your healthcare provider, and have him or her make a note of it in your medical record. Discuss your wishes with family members before there is a crisis. This can go a long way toward ensuring your wishes are both known and followed, in addition to providing family members with some measure of peace of mind should they need to make such decisions. The best approach to making it more likely your wishes will be followed is to use all of these measures so everyone – your family and health care providers – are well aware of your wishes, and they are documented.


Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

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The Importance of Having a Healthcare Representative

Some time ago, Joan Rivers, a well-known television personality, had to be placed on life support after it was reported that she experienced complications during a surgical procedure. When I originally wrote this column, a newscaster mentioned that decisions regarding continuing that life support might need to be made. It’s easy to understand that these kinds of situations are extraordinarily stressful. The situation is even more difficult if the family doesn’t know the patient’s wishes.

Ms. Rivers’ unfortunate situation highlights concerns that many of us have about our own health care: what happens if we can’t communicate with our health care providers and are unaware of what’s going on? Medical and surgical treatment always requires decisions to be made. Sometimes our health care provider recommends a particular treatment, or provides options for different treatments. The health care provider acts on the patient’s direction, which may include authorization for a particular treatment, or the decision to not have a treatment. Examples of these types of decisions include the use of life-saving interventions such a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and intubation if the patient cannot breath on their own. Life-sustaining treatments might include feeding the patient through a tube or intravenously.

If a patient can’t communicate decisions to their health care provider, what options are available? One tool that adults in Connecticut can use in such a situation is the appointment of a health care representative. A health care representative may make medical decisions on behalf of the patient when the patient is unable to do so. There is no inherent limit on those decisions – they are not limited to life-saving or life-sustaining interventions, but may include any and all health care decisions for a person who is incapacitated to the point where they can’t actively take part in decision-making and cannot direct their health care provider regarding their medical care.

The ability to make health care decisions when the patient is incapacitated is one important way health care representatives are different from health care agents. The authority of health care agents is limited to conveying the patient’s wishes to medical providers; they have no authority to make decisions. Effective October 1, 2006, Connecticut law was changed to permit the appointment of health care representatives. The difference between health care agents and health care representatives is especially important for those who executed an appointment of health care agent several years ago. The change in the law gives adults in Connecticut a potentially more effective tool in planning for incapacity. A health care representative retains authority to make health care decisions even if the person who appointed them is under an involuntary conservatorship, unless a court order says otherwise.

The next column will examine advance medical directives. Advance medical directives, also known as “living wills,” are commonly used in conjunction with the appointment of a health care representative as part of a legal strategy to plan for potential incapacity.

Copyright© 2014 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved.


Incapacity, Conservatorships, and the Probate Court

Many people use wills to direct how their assets will be distributed after they die. However, few people plan for legal incapacity, which can occur suddenly and without warning. Wills have no utility while the person who created the will is living. A will has legal significance only after it has been admitted by a probate court.

Imagine that a loved one becomes incapable of managing their affairs – perhaps they cannot communicate, maybe they are unconscious for an extended period of time, or simply cannot understand what is going on around them. Trauma, illnesses such as dementia, or a surgical procedure gone awry are just a few of the real life situations that may give rise to legal incapacity. What medical decisions need to be made? Perhaps decisions on providing or withdrawing life saving or life sustaining medical interventions must be made. Who will make them? What are patient’s wishes in that situation?

If the incapacitated person has not planned for such a contingency, it may be necessary to go to the probate court for the appointment of a conservator. Conservatorship proceedings, particularly when someone is incapacitated, can be time consuming and expensive.

How will the incapacitated person’s financial affairs be handled? Bills may need to be paid. Assets such as a home or automobile may need to be protected and maintained. Financial accounts may need to be managed. Income, such as social security, pension, interest, or insurance proceeds may need to be deposited. Taxes may need to be paid. Perhaps one or more businesses must be managed. Dependents, such as minor children, may need to be supported. These kinds of situations are stressful; family members may not know what to do; financial institutions and healthcare providers may refuse to deal with family members for fear of inappropriately disclosing confidential information. Assets may be wasted or jeopardized.

While some may find it difficult to discuss, planning for incapacity can go a long way toward reducing the stress and uncertainty families face in such situations by having the legal measures in place in advance to manage the incapacitated person’s affairs. Fortunately, there are a number of legal tools available to provide for legal incapacity, so that many or all of these issues can be effectively dealt with without having to go to the probate court. Unfortunately, once a person becomes legally incapacitated, it is too late to create these measures if the incapacitated person hadn’t already done so before they became incapacitated.

The next installment in this series of articles will briefly review powers of attorney as a legal tool available in Connecticut to plan for incapacity. Other legal tools, such as appointment of healthcare representative, advance directives, living trusts, advance designation of conservator, and alternative ways of titling assets, such as survivorship, payable on death, and beneficiary designations will be examined in subsequent articles.

This article is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be, and should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Please consult a qualified attorney for advice regarding your particular situation.

Copyright© 2014 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved.

Incapacity, Conservatorships & the Probate Court

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