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Who Makes End of Life Decisions When an  Accidental Tragedy Occurs?

Let’s face it – end-of-life planning is an extremely tough issue to talk about. Most individuals and families avoid the topic entirely because, well, it’s not easy thinking death, disability, and circumstances in which one is imagining and planning for irreversible medical circumstances requiring intervention by family. In a number of cultures, planning for end-of-life decisions are even perceived as inviting tragedy. So, for good reason, many people simply avoid thinking about it or dealing with it.

But the reality is that accidents can happen at any time for any reason, and failing to plan for them only makes things harder for loved ones. These are real issues that need to be addressed and planned for so that the individual is clearly expressing their wishes to their family.

Some of the issues that come up often are:

  • Would you want specific instructions to be followed by your family in the event you are hospitalized and unable to make decisions for yourself?
  • Who should be in charge of making final decisions for you?
  • Who do you trust to carry out your wishes?
  • Would you want pain medication administered to you if it meant hastening your passing?
  • Which physicians or how many physicians would you want to be consulted to determine if you could return to normal?
  • Are there factors that you would want your physicians or family members to consider when deciding whether you could return to normal (i.e., independent breathing, brain activity, etc.)
  • Would you want to remain on life support if there was a low chance of returning to normal?
  • Who would you want present at your bedside?
  • If a decision had to be made to hasten your passing, who should make it?
  • What would you want to be done with your organs or remains?
  • Would you want your organs used for specific purposes (i.e., transplanting to others) but not others (like scientific research)?
  • Do you want to be buried? Cremated? Should there be a funeral?
  • What should happen to your pets, home, and other belongings?

In addition to the medical issues, it is also extremely important to address how you want your family members to be taken care of once you pass. If you have children, stepchildren, prior marriages, divorces, multiple children, siblings or living parents, it is just crucial that you think about what steps you must take to protect them if you pass. The reality is that spouses remarry, children grow up without always getting along, and sometimes family members can take control of a situation in a manner against the wishes of the person who has passed. Failing to plan and make your wishes known leaves it up to family members to figure out, and gentler voices or more vulnerable individuals (like children) can find themselves in a terrible situation simply because the deceased person failed to plan.  For example, if your spouse remarries and has children with their new partner, how will you ensure your child is adequately protected and cared for during their life? Or, if your children are underage, how can you ensure that the adults you leave to care for them will treat them fairly and only use your assets for their care?

The problem is that most people think “this will never happen” in their families and trust their family members to get along and be fair to each other. This does not always happen!! About 7-10 times a week we get calls from children and adult family members of a deceased person, who are shocked and distraught about the way they have been treated by a family member of the deceased. The stories are all too common: the deceased’s bank accounts being raided, home pillaged, assets disappearing, and the victims left penniless, kicked out of homes, not allowed to be present at funerals or funeral services, documents forged, children cut out (often children of first marriages), warring siblings, and even theft. Many times, friction and disputes are caused by non-blood family (i.e., spouses of the blood family member).    If there’s one lesson that shows up over and over again in these kinds of disputes, it is that the power of greed should never be underestimated.

Look – these issues are not easy, and sometimes require you to look in the mirror and make tough decisions about matters that are difficult to think about and address.

If you have NOT thought about end of life decisions and the protection of your loved ones once you pass, you owe it to yourself and your family to do so.  Getting the right attorney involved is the first step, and in as little as 15 minutes, you can get peace of mind by speaking to an attorney and getting a confidential consultation to begin the process.  It is a confidential process, meaning that your family does not need to know each and every decision you make – unless you want them to.  But it can help provide certainty in uncertain circumstances, and take the guesswork out of the determination of your final wishes.

Trust us – your family members will thank you a thousand times over if it means them being spared from an ugly fight and irretrievably broken relationships.

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We represents clients in numerous kind of probate matters, including wills and codicils, small estates, trusts, revocable trusts, living trusts, probate, estate-planning, probate administration, probate litigation, will contests, trust litigation, and numerous others. For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent you with respect to any probate, wills, trusts, or estate matter, contact [email protected]  or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation.

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