About a month ago, this blog discussed the issue of “living wills” in Florida. To review, a living will, also known as an advance health care directive, is a legal document that specifies a person’s wishes with regard to the medical intervention techniques that he or she wants or does not want to be used if he or she becomes incapacitated. Often, along with the advance heath care directive is a health care proxy, which legally designates a person to make medical-related decisions for someone who is incapacitated.
These documents are important because the subject of when and how a person wishes to die can be a controversial one. Here in Florida, the idea of “euthanasia,” which is sometimes called “dying with dignity” or “mercy killing,” is especially controversial for a couple of reasons. First, Florida’s large retired population means that issues related to illness and end-of-life treatments are particularly common. Second, perhaps the most famous “right to die” case in U.S. history occurred in the state a bit over 20 years ago. Known as the “Terry Schiavo” case, it pitted a husband against the parents of a woman who was in a persistent vegetative state. The argument of who got to decide what medical interventions were used to keep the woman alive had to be settled by the courts.
Florida Statute 765.309 deals with the issue of euthanasia in the state. It says that nothing in the law regarding advance directives should be construed as condoning or authorizing mercy killing or allowing any act or omission that causes a person’s death other than the natural process of dying. It does, however, state that withholding life-prolonging treatments from a person does not legally constitute a “suicide.”
The upshot of all this is that, along with delineating how one’s material assets are to be distributed, it is very important that a comprehensive estate plan contains provisions with regard to end of life issues as well. If you would like to avoid your loved ones experiencing the stress and expense of having a court decide when and how you are to die, an advance directive and health care proxy are a good idea. If you wish to learn how you can make such documents a part of your estate plan, you may want to consider contacting an experienced estate planning attorney.