Advance Health Care Directives/Legal Wills are a Critical Component of Estate Planning

March 31, 2012 marked the seventh anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old who succumbed after her feeding tube was removed as part of a very public legal battle between her husband and parents.Terri Schiavo was in a comma for nearly 15 years after she suffered cardiac arrest and sustained a brain injury.  Her husband, Michael Schiavo, alleged that his wife would not want to live in her incapacitated state; however, she had no written instructions in place.  Her parents, on the other hand, argued that she valued life and would have chosen to be sustained.  The Florida Legislature, then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the United States Congress and President George W. Bush all weighed in during this legal battle. While we may disagree on Terri’s desires, we can safely assume that she would not have wanted the acrimony that her condition created between her husband and parents.The Terri Schiavo story highlights the critical need for clear instructions as to health care when the patient is unable to make those decisions for him or herself.  Yet, a recent New York Times Editorial highlights a 2006 Pew Research Center poll which showed that only one-third of Americans had a living will, sometimes called an Advance Health Care Directive.It is critical that we think through these issues carefully and that we prepare the legal documents necessary to effectuate our desires – so that our desires will be carried out even if we are unable to express them ourselves.  Off the rack documents, prepared without understanding the consequences could be even more detrimental than no planning at all.