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Healthcare proxies can make end-of-life decisions easier

For many people in Florida, thinking about estate planning can cause mixed emotions. While planning for the disposition of one's estate after death is necessary, it can be uncomfortable to think about one's mortality. However, not all estate planning decisions will have an impact only after you should die.

One way this can manifest itself is the designation of a healthcare proxy. This allows a trusted family member or friend -- or, more often than not, one's spouse -- to make medical decisions on behalf of someone who cannot voice their wishes due to incapacity. Doing this allows the person who would be affected by the decision the ability to have an impact on the process. If there are no instructions left and no healthcare proxy to enact them, then a court might be forced to initiate a guardianship, which could lead to consternation within a family.

A physician relates a situation that, while unfortunate, is probably not that uncommon around the country or in Florida in particular, which has a high number of elderly residents. The elderly woman in question had a lung condition that she knew would be terminal. She had discussed her wishes regarding palliative care with her nurse but had failed to bring her husband in on the discussion.

This led to the woman being transported to a hospital and placed on a ventilator against her wishes. When her husband learned of the woman's wishes from the nurse, her plan was implemented and she was taken off the ventilator. If the woman had a healthcare directive in place before her condition advanced, she might have been spared the incident altogether.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Doctors have a duty to encourage patients to discuss end-of-life wishes," Kiran Gupta, Feb. 20, 2013

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