It probably seems like all I’ve been writing about lately is healthcare related issues.  There is a good reason for that.  Recently I’ve been close to and read about many healthcare related situations where the treatment (or lack thereof) was very much related to the planning that the individual did (or didn’t do).  Maybe I see and hear about more of these situations because I’m a Grand Rapids, Michigan estate planning attorney.  However, I don’t think that is the case.  Why?

Because the news media are writing about it too, due to the importance of the planning involved and what can happen if you don’t have a well-drafted and well thought out estate plan in place during a healthcare crisis.  One such example is an article in the November 20, 2011 Grand Rapids Press (Section A4) entitled “Living will?  Call me later.  Aging boomers feel too good to plan for death.”  The article is a result of an Associated Press – poll.

The gist of the article was that, due to healthier lifestyles and a fear of thinking about death, a majority of “baby boomers” (64%) say they don’t have a health care proxy or living will.  Of the people they interviewed, one said “I’m very healthy for my age, so death and dying isn’t on my mind,” another said, “I just feel like it’s something I’ll probably think about in my late 60s or 70s,” and my personal favorite, ” you always think something is going to happen to the other guy, not you.”

The article correctly points out that how you feel doesn’t determine what happens to you.  I think that is the most important statement of the entire article, yet they fail to elaborate on it much . . . so I will.  There are many “healthy” people who still need surgery, are involved in accidents, and have health issues resulting in disability, incapacity or even death.  For example, just this past year, West Michigan lost a loving husband and father and a true gentleman, when he passed away during the Fifth Third River Bank Run.  Those who knew him said he was the picture of health.  Yet, it was a nascent condition that showed up that caused his passing.  In the past six months I’ve also read about two individuals who passed away of brain aneurysms while working out.  Both were described as being very healthy.

You see, our health is something we can control only to a point.  Our bodies are complex and wonderfully created “machines,” and there can be many undiscovered conditions in a “healthy person.”  A healthcare power of attorney or patient advocate designation is something everyone should have, no matter how “young,” “old,” “healthy,” or “unhealthy.”  From the 18 year old embarking on college or their career, to the 90+ year old World War II veteran who still walks several miles a day – everyone needs these critical documents.

There are two points made in the article that I feel need some correction.  First, the article emphasizes the importance of “living wills.”  As a I wrote in this previous blog post, living wills are not legally binding in Michigan.  Michigan is one of only a few states that have no living will statute.  That said, I always have an in-depth discussion with my clients about care and end of life wishes.  These become part of their healthcare power of attorney and patient advocate designation.

Second, the article mentions that each state has its own forms for healthcare proxies and living wills.  It then goes on to say that “while it’s a legal document, . . . you don’t need an attorney to draft one.”  Technically, that is correct – because there are some forms available, you don’t need an attorney to draft one for you.  But you can say that about any estate planning document (e.g., wills, trusts, financial powers of attorney).  The question you should ask is should you meet with a Michigan attorney who focuses on estate planning to discuss the issues involved and draft a plan that ensures those wishes/desires will be followed?

The answer is “yes!”  The documents are the documents.  The value is in the counseling and discussion involved and implementing those wishes/desires by way of a comprehensive plan involving a healthcare power of attorney (among the other important estate planning documents).

Sure, we all think it will happen to “the other guy,” just like the quote in the article.  But one day, “the other guy” (or woman) will be each of us.  When that time comes, it is too late to put these important planning items in place.  Take action now, while you can, by calling us at 616-827-7596.

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and elder law attorney who helps families and create a lasting legacy.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.