More than 214,000 people across the United States and over 16,500 people in California have passed away from COVID-19 and related issues in the past eight months. Many of these individuals would have never expected that they would contract and succumb to a fatal illness this year, and many people might not have had time to prepare their estate plan following their diagnosis.
One particularly important estate planning document you should have during a pandemic is called a living will. This document informs your loved ones of your wishes for end-of-life treatment, including what type of procedures, drugs, or treatment you do or do not want, including whether you want to be kept on life support. If you have designated a medical power of attorney, they can use your living will along with other documents in your advance directive to make decisions about your medical care.
COVID-19 and Ventilators
Even if you have a living will already, it might not address certain issues that are now relevant in 2020. For example:
- Your living should discuss whether you want to be on a ventilator or similar medical support since this is so common with serious cases of COVID-19.
- If your living will states you do not want breathing assistance, you might decide to update this in light of coronavirus. This is because a ventilator is invasive, many people decide they do not want to be put on one, though this is now a common lifesaving treatment for severe COVID patients. You might change your mind and decide that trying ventilator treatment for COVID is acceptable due to the nature of the virus and its complications.
Your living will should advise how long you might want to be kept on a ventilator and when your healthcare agent should decide to stop such treatment if there are no signs of improvement.
Do Not Wait to Create or Update Your Living Will
While thinking about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus and being in the hospital is not pleasant, it is important to take these steps now in case you get sick. Once your situation is dire, and you are in the intensive care unit (ICU), it is too late to draft a living will. This is because once you are incapacitated, you no longer have control over who makes your healthcare decisions and what they decide. You need to take these steps and set out these decisions in writing before you are ill.
You should also discuss the matter with your medical power of attorney and make sure they have a copy of your living will and any other directives. See if they have any questions about your living will so that you can be confident they will take action as you would have wanted.
While you should stay positive and hope you will not become very ill during the pandemic, it is best to draft a living will and other estate planning documents – just to be safe – with the help of a California estate planning attorney.