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Your Living Will Is a Power of Attorney

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The Terry Schiavo case of life, death, and the wishes of someone who is terminally ill has not quite left our memory.

For 15 years opposite sides of a life and death struggle involving Terry Schiavo - who in February of 1990 at age 26 collapsed in her apartment, lapsed into a coma and only recovered to a vegetative state - fought through numerous court appearances and with each other in family battles that resulted in a debate fueled by money-powered advocates from both pro-life and right-to-die camps.

The debate also went to the US Congress and prompted a statement by then-President George Bush, who said that because there were "serious questions and substantial doubts" about the case; Terri Schiavo had no written directive as to whether she would wish to have her feeding tube removed, or not.

The Schiavo Family's insistence that Terry wanted to remain alive and Terry's husband Michael Schiavo's wish to allow his wife to die a natural death could have been avoided with one simple documentation.

I'm sure you know someone who has been in this situation; if you have not been in this situation yourself. You've been seriously ill and are in the hospital. A nurse, after checking your vitals, says there are some papers for you to sign; it has to do with your scheduled surgery. These papers must be signed, or the surgery you need won't be performed. She'll be back later to collect them, with your signature.

You not have seen these papers before, and so you read. The papers ask what you want to happen in the event your surgery does not go well, and you don't recover.

In the unfortunate event of an accident that renders you unable to speak, leaves you in a vegetative state or terminally ill, a living will describes to what extent you would like to receive life support, resuscitation procedures or other life-prolonging care.

Without this document your next-to-kin would have to make this decision on their own.

A Living Will is a written legal document detailing your instructions for life-prolonging medical care, with written instructions to your physicians that takes effect when you are no longer able to tell the doctor yourself.

As a "living document," your living will is also a health-care Power of Attorney; it empowers someone to make medical care decisions for you while you are temporarily unable to do so; it also tells the physicians what certain medical decisions you want performed when you are no longer able to tell the doctor yourself. The health-care Power of Attorney can also require that someone follow the instructions in your living will.

Many people have both a last will and a living will so that they are covered in all situations. Living wills are also known as an "advance directive," which applies when someone has been diagnosed as terminally ill. Schiavo died in March of 2005; although she suffered from extensive brain damage, Schiavo was never diagnosed as being terminally ill.

As with your Last Will & Testament, be sure to update your living will every five years, and be sure that both documents are in accordance with your state laws.

Bequests

Bequests are a way to leave a legacy for your survivors. Listed in your Last Will & Testament, Bequests can be a specific dollar amount, personal property or real estate.

There are a few types:

Percentage Bequests designate that a certain percentage of your estate be distributed to beneficiaries or a charitable organization. If giving property to a charitable organization; that organization must be specifically identified; this allows the donor to to an estate tax deduction for the full value of the property transferred.

Residual Bequests are what remains after all your other Specific Bequests, estate taxes and administrative expenses have been distributed.

Contingent Bequests are effective when your primary beneficiary predeceases you; Specific Bequests are paid before all other bequests.

Bequests must be designated and properly documented and included in Your Last Will & Testament.

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