With COVID-19 ravaging the country, doctors across the nation are raising their voices alongside lawyers in urging Americans to create proper estate planning documents so that medical providers can provide better care should they become hospitalized with the virus.
COVID-19 is such an unprecedented problem that even if you already have these documents in place and ready in case of your incapacity, it is still a good idea to revisit them and ensure that they are up-to-date and address specific scenarios related to the coronavirus that might not have seemed necessary before.
All adults over 18 years old should have the documents in place. However, if you are over age 60 or have a chronic underlying health condition, the need is particularly urgent. Contact us right away if you or anyone in your family needs these documents created.
In wake of COVID-19, there are a few unique circumstances you need to be aware of when drafting these documents to ensure all of the potential scenarios related to the coronavirus and its treatment have been properly addressed.
In the first part of this series, we discussed some unique circumstances related to COVID-19 and its treatment that you should be aware of when creating or updating your directives. Here, we offer several more provisions you should consider adding to your directives to ensure the documents address as many potential contingencies as possible during the ongoing pandemic.
Permission to undergo experimental medical treatments: Since there is currently no proven vaccine or other effective treatment for COVID-19, you may consider adding provisions to your directives authorizing your agent to consent to—or withhold consent for—any experimental treatments or procedures that may be developed. As it could be years before an effective vaccine or cure will be available on a widespread basis, such a provision could be particularly important if you contract the virus while such treatments are still in the trial phase.
Express your wishes about intubation and ventilators: In severe COVID-19 cases, patients may require intubation, which involves putting you into a medically induced coma and inserting a tube into your windpipe to allow oxygen to be pumped directly to your lungs using a ventilator. However, some directives specifically prohibit intubation since such measures are often a last resort and used primarily for life-support purposes.
Now, some coronavirus patients have successfully recovered after being on a ventilator, so you might not want a blanket prohibition of intubation in all cases. While the exact survival rates are still unknown, early reports from New York City health officials found fewer than 20% of COVID-19 patients ultimately survived after being placed on a ventilator. Reports from China and the U.K. found similar rates.
You’ll also need to weigh the fact that even if you survive after being placed on a ventilator, you’re likely to require months or even years of rehabilitation and may never regain the full quality of life you previously enjoyed. If you’re elderly or have an underlying condition the prognosis for full recovery is especially slim.
For all of these reasons, you should carefully review your directives’ provisions regarding intubation and ventilators with us and your doctor to be certain your documents accurately reflect your wishes. There is no right or wrong answer here, so it’s critical your loved ones and medical professionals know what you would want.
To help you make more informed decisions, read What You Should Know Before You Need a Ventilator, a doctor’s perspective about intubation’s potential health consequences for COVID-19 patients. Additionally, you can find a more comprehensive discussion of coronavirus treatment decisions at the non-profit Compassion & Choices resource page, COVID-19: Understanding Your Options.
Consider a liability shield for doctors and hospitals: Some doctors and medical facilities are hesitant to honor living wills and work with healthcare agents due to fear of getting sued. To ease their worries and make them more amiable, consider including language in your directives that “indemnifies” medical providers, facilities, and your agent from any liability incurred as a result of following your directions. People and institutions will be much more likely to fully honor your wishes if they understand they likely won’t get hit with a lawsuit for doing so.
Make sure everyone knows about (and has current copies of) your directives: Even if you have the most well thought-out and professionally prepared directives around, they won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on if nobody knows about them. Both medical power of attorney and living wills go into effect the second you sign them, so you should immediately deliver copies to your agent(s), your alternate agents, your primary care physician, and any other medical specialists you’re seeing.
Don’t forget to give those folks new versions whenever you update the documents and have them shred the old documents. This is a standard part of our practice when serving clients so when you work with us on your legal documents we will ensure that everyone who needs to have your documents always has the latest version.
The tragic reality of the pandemic is that far too many Americans are at risk of becoming seriously ill and potentially dying from COVID-19. In this dire situation, it’s vital that you and your loved ones take all possible precautions to mitigate your chances of catching the virus and in the case you do catch it, increase your chances of surviving. Given the overloaded state of our healthcare system right now, facilitating your medical care in this way could ultimately save your life.
Whether you have yet to create these documents or need yours updated to address COVID-19, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, right away to take care of this urgent planning task.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.