By Jason Stern
A living will is a legal instrument directing what life saving measures you want made and most importantly what measures you do not want undertaken on your behalf. A living will, also known as an advance directive for medical decisions, applies in the event you are no longer able to either decide or communicate your healthcare decisions to medical personnel: ie, a terrible accident that leaves you mentally impaired, a massive stroke, coma, hemorrhage or any other medical condition that impairs our cognitive functions so that we can no longer effectively make our own health care decisions. When presented to healthcare facilities in NY, the living will directs what measures if any the patient authorizes on their behalf despite their incapacity.
As a NY estate lawyer I can tell you this is the most sobering NY estate instrument I draft. Unlike the Last Will & Testament, which we all eventually require, the living will is something we hope to never need. Additionally, the Health Care Proxy is an instrument usually incorporated into the Living Will itself by your NY estate lawyer. The healthcare proxy designates and appoints one or more people to make vital healthcare decisions on your behalf.
Why are living wills and healthcare proxies becoming more popular?
Any experienced NY estate lawyer will be among the first to notice trends in the field of estate planning. In the previous 12 months the single inquiry I have fielded most from new clients is regarding the Living Will. Most NY estate clients do not even know what it is called or how it works but to their credit they know it is something they need.
My explanation as a NY Estate Lawyer for society’s increasing fascination with the Living Will is scientific. Technological advances in the sciences, many of them medical, were once only seen as science fiction and are now reality. People are becoming growingly aware of the unwanted applications of such technology.
Previously this fear may have stemmed from religious beliefs that one was interfering with divine powers by being kept alive by artificial means. However today this fear is rooted in the more pragmatic realization that being kept alive in a vegetative state for an extended period of time is unnatural, perhaps even painful and a fate even worse than the death it is trying to circumvent. Similar to the excerpt in Dante’s interpretation of purgatory, someplace between life and death exists a place much worse than either. This is a nightmarish reality that more and more clients are speaking to their NY estate lawyers about.
The Case of Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon served as Israel’s prime minister for nearly 5 years from 2001 thru 2006. Before becoming Prime Minister on March 7, 2001, he earned unparalleled notoriety as one of Israel’s greatest, most fearless war heroes. He was labeled with the endearing name “bulldozer” for his many exploits as a commando in the 1947 War of Independence, 1956 Suez War in the Sinai and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In each of these wars he parachuted behind enemy lines, greatly outnumbered by superior enemy forces, while disabling Egypt’s Army. Today Ariel Sharon is widely considered one of the greatest generals the Israeli Defense Forces ever had. Throughout his presidency he was a complicated leader capable of changing his stance on polarizing issues such as Israeli settlements in the West Bank. After encouraging the controversial settlements on land that is widely believed to be Palestinian he later reversed his stance by orchestrating a massive withdrawal from the contested lands.
On January 4, 2006, six weeks before his 78 th birthday, Ariel suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke. The hemorrhage left him in a vegetative coma that his body could never recover from. Despite losing all cognitive abilities from the stroke, Israeli medical staff kept Ariel Sharon alive on life support for 8 long years. Sharon passed away on January 1, 2014 from acute renal failure, also known as kidney failure. Having been twice widowed he left behind only two sons who refused to allow medical staff to pull the plug. Perhaps they could not bear to let go of a figure that seemed larger than life. Whatever their selfish reasons, there is no excuse for keeping a human alive in such a state for an extended period of time. Not only is it inhumane but it is also a complete waste of resources to keep someone alive in a chemically induced coma without any hope of improvement.
There is an important lesson here to be learned which applies to any NY estate lawyer’s practice. Something’s are worse than death and being kept alive in a vegetative state for 8 years is one of them. While most of our families should never have to make these difficult decisions, we must all have precautionary measures in place. An experienced NY estate lawyer can prepare a Living Will and Health Care Proxy for you and your family. These NY estate-planning instruments are relatively inexpensive and can be drafted within an hour.
If you or a loved one is thinking about planning their estate, feel free to speak with a NY estate lawyer for a free consultation at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444. Our estate lawyers have nearly 45 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating the wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.