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20 Years Later, the Terri Schiavo Case Still Exemplifies the Need for a Living Will

Posted on in Estate Planning and Probate

San Antonio living will lawyerMany people think that the term “estate planning” is synonymous with writing a will. However, a will is only one component of the estate planning process. Estate planning is not only planning for the distribution of your assets upon your death, but also planning for your possible incapacitation. Many people are terminally ill and unable to make decisions for themselves long before they pass away. Planning for the possibility of incapacitation by illness or injury is very important. Nothing better exemplifies the need for incapacitation planning than the Terri Schiavo case.

Legal and Familial Turmoil Caused by Uncertainty

When she was just 26 years old, Terri Schiavo went into cardiac arrest. She suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen that put her in a vegetative state. Doctors had little hope of her ever regaining consciousness. Terri’s husband did not believe that his wife would want to live in that condition. In 1998, he sought to have her breathing tube removed so she could die naturally. However, Terri’s parents strongly disagreed. They wanted their daughter to be kept alive by any means necessary – even if she could never again interact with the world or communicate with loved ones.

The disagreement about whether to keep Terri alive through artificial means developed into a full-blown legal battle. By the time the matter was resolved, the case involved 14 separate appeals and numerous hearings. Eventually, the feeding tube was removed and Terri passed away.

How a Living Will Could Have Been Used to Avoid an Eight-Year Legal Battle

A living will is a legally-binding document in which a person spells out the types of medical procedures they do and do not want if they are incapacitated. Understandably it is hard to think about the possibility of being in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate with others, but it is important to plan for this possibility. A living will can be used to make decisions about mechanical ventilation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), breathing tubes, dialysis, palliative care, and other end-of-life concerns.

Using a living will to describe your medical wishes ensures that your wishes are upheld by doctors. Furthermore, a living will eliminates the need for your family to make these decisions for you. If Terri Schiavo had an estate plan containing a living will, her husband and parents may have avoided a near-decade long legal battle regarding her care.  

Contact a San Antonio Living Will Lawyer

A living will is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. For help drafting your estate plan, contact Bexar County estate planning attorney Geoff Mayfield. Mr. Mayfield can answer all of your questions and guide you through the estate planning process from start to finish.

 

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)61439-0/fulltext

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303

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