Whitney Houston’s Daughter – Estate Planning Lessons
Whitney Houston’s daughter’s health problems are a devastation to the family. Hopefully, though, someone can learn some lessons from this tragedy and apply it to their own lives. In Leawood, estate planning lessons are needed everywhere – from death to disability to conservatorships to guardianships – the list goes on and on.
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What Estate Planning Lessons can I Learn from Whitney Houston’s Daughter?
If you have been following this blog, then you are no doubt aware of the recent passing of of 22-year old Bobbi Kristina Brown. The daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, her tragic death provides valuable estate planning lessons for us all.
For starters, estate planning is not just for older folks. As my grandfather used to say, the old must die and the young may die. A recent NewsMax article, titled “End-of-Life Lessons of Bobbi Kristina’s Tragic Death,” recommends that parents of college-bound freshman (18 and older) should have an advance health care directive (including a HIPPA release) and a financial durable power of attorney prepared for their newly-minted adult.
Why? So parents and other trusted family members can act on their behalf if the unforeseen occurs. Think sudden debilitating illnesses and auto accidents. In today’s blog post we will focus on the health care aspects and save the financial for another day. As you may recall, Bobbi Kristina passed away after a very public six-month family fight over how to treat her comatose condition. She had been found found face-down in a bathtub in the Atlanta town home she shared with her boyfriend Nick Gordon.
Her story illustrates the difficulties confronting families when dealing with complex health care decisions. As the original article notes these legal instruments should be prepared by an estate planning attorney to ensure that they comply with the requirements of state law.
Here is a review of these critical health care documents:
An Advance Health Directive. This is a document through which you appoint one or more trusted persons to make medical decisions for you when you are unable, usually the parents, then other family members. In my practice this document really has three component parts. First, there is the “health care treatment directive” which contains your instructions for medical treatment or non-treatment. Second, there is the “durable power of attorney for health care decision” so you can appoint your “agents” and provide them with the specific powers to act on your behalf. Third, I include an “anatomical gift declaration” to guide your agents regarding whether you want to donate your body, organs or parts … and the purposes authorized. A HIPPA Release. I include the HIPPA release language in paragraph 4 of the durable power of attorney for health care decisions. I find this to be much more convenient and simple than yet another separate legal document. With this release in place, your agents can openly communicate with your agents and provide your medical record. This is essential, especially when seeking a second (or third) opinion.
Treatment Restrictions. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure you clearly discuss your “what if” wishes with your agents. For example, how do you feel about various levels and means of life support?
Here are several specific treatments the original article suggests you address:
A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order. This states that you do not want providers to perform extraordinary measures (like CPR) if your heart or breathing stops.
Mechanical Ventilation. State when and for how long you would want a mechanical respirator to take over your breathing.
Nutritional Assistance. Discuss your feelings about nutrition if you could only be fed through an intravenous or stomach tube.
Dialysis. Kidney failure can be the first step toward death in terminal patients. State parameters around which you would want this treatment.
Brain Death. State what you would want if your brain function was deemed minimal or immeasurable. Organ Donation. Make your wishes known if you want to donate your organs and tissues for transplantation.
Look, I know this aspect of estate planning is no fun, especially for a young person in the prime of life. It is no surprise that only 26.3% of Americans have completed advance health directives, according to a 2013 study. Nevertheless, as the Bobbi Kristina Brown case demonstrates, it is important and never too early to discuss this topic with spouses, adult children, parents and other family members. Once you have executed your advance health directive, share copies with your appointed agents, doctors, family members and any other relevant party. We provide PDF scans of the originals for clients to forward to all of their doctors for storage in their official electronic medical records so they may be conveniently accessed when needed.
For your newly-minted adult, do not forget to forward a copy to the student health clinic at his or her university, too. [Sidebar: We affectionately referred to the clinic at Kansas University as the “Voo-Doo Clinic” when I was there.] Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
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