Estate Planning = Control

We have all heard the “Serenity Prayer”:  “O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

No one can look into a crystal ball and know what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to control the unknown.

The story of Brittany Maynard has been in the news lately.  She is a 29-year-old who is dying of terminal cancer and has decided to eventually end her life under Oregon’s “death with dignity” laws.  Ms. Maynard recently said:  “The worst thing that could happen to me is that I wait too long….  I somehow have my autonomy taken away from me….”  An individual who is also dying of cancer, but who disagrees with Ms. Maynard’s decision to end her life, said:  “[T]he decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil….”

This blog entry is not about “death with dignity” or “physician-assisted suicide”, it is about control.  Both of the quotes above talk about control.  We may be able to control the medical care we receive and the manner in which we die, even if we cannot control whether or not we die.  Ms. Maynard is conscious and mentally competent, so she is able to make her own health care decisions.  However, if she had been in an accident or if she were to lose consciousness, she would no longer have control over her medical status.  Her estate plan would have to speak for her, or her loved ones would be left guessing at her wishes and possibly arguing about what to do.

An individual may use their estate plan to:

  1. State who should make their health care decisions if they can’t.
  2. Describe what health care decisions should be made.
  3. Express their wishes for end-of-life care.
  4. Describe their memorial service.
  5. Describe their wishes for what they would like to happen with their body.

Tip:     The first step in taking control is to complete an Advance Directive or Health Care Power of Attorney.

An Advance Directive is a complicated legal document.  While you are not required to have a lawyer to complete it, of course, we recommend that you seek formal legal advice regarding how to properly complete it so that it says what you want it to say.   Here is a link to Oregon’s Advance Directive, via Oregon State University’s Student Health Services.  Look toward the bottom of the page:

It is also advisable to talk with the people who might have to make your health care decisions to confirm they know what your wishes are and are comfortable carrying the wishes out.  You may also want to write a letter to provide additional detail or to help your health care representatives remember what you discussed.

There are many things we cannot control, but my clients find serenity in knowing they’ve changed what they can change.