When it comes to the business of their final days, many Americans have not taken the precautions necessary for their loved ones to be free to grieve. Over half of Americans of working age do not presently have a last will and testament, meaning that upon death, their estate goes to probate court where a judge decides how their assets are divided. While some avoid creating a last will and testament due to the legal expenses involved during the process, many others simply do not desire to speak about death while they are healthy. Yet sound mind and good health remain the best physical state in which to contemplate one’s assets, while one is still free of serious health issues, imminent death, and the high financial costs that emergency care often brings.
Even if they are not comfortable talking about it, most of the American public realizes the importance of a last will and testament. There are several misconceptions about this document in the public consciousness, however. Perhaps the greatest of these is that a last will and testament often does not provide doctors with any instructions about end-of-life care. Most of the public may not be aware that these critical medical decisions pass to the next-of-kin in the event that there is not a living will for the person in question. As one might imagine, this creates enormous pressure for the next-of-kin if the wishes of the patient are not known. Physicians will prompt them with all of the necessary clinical questions. In order for medical authority to pass to the next-of-kin, however, physicians must first determine that the patient is unable (physically or mentally) to make sound medical decisions. Physicians will then attempt to find out what kinds of surgical procedures the patient would wish to be eligible for in case of a life-threatening scenario. This includes options regarding resuscitation, serious surgery, feeding tubes, and life support.
The next-of-kin may find themselves quickly overwhelmed, particularly if the patient does not have a living will. Like a last will and testament, a living will contains directives regarding end-of-life care. A living will is concerned with a patient’s specific wishes in terms of medical procedures that may be employed when the patient has passed beyond the threshold of lucidity. The living will provides legally binding care information that will greatly benefit the next-of-kin by providing information they would otherwise have to attempt to come up with themselves without their loved ones being able to confirm their wishes.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, more Americans are set to gain access to health insurance than ever before. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide some form of health insurance to their full-time staff. More of the public using their health insurance coverage makes a living will all the more important for maintaining efficiency and quality of life during end-of-life care.