February 2010 Navy
by LCDR David M. Bradley, USN (Ret)
I may have touched somewhat on some of this information in previous articles, but a few days ago I was notified of the passing of a shipmate from my old Coastal Warfare unit. Pete was a lieutenant when I worked with him in the early ‘90s and passed away suddenly due to an acute and very aggressive onset of kidney cancer. Pete was but 44 and was diagnosed only six months previously.
We plan for vacations, celebrations, retirements, deployments, and other special occasions but often overlook one of the most important planning activities of our lives – our passing. Of course, when it happens to you, you’ve no more worries; those are in the hands of a higher authority; but what about your family and loved ones? Just as you would chart a course for a cruise, listed below are some steps you should prepare and keep revised as time goes on.
Personal Work Sheet
This should be a simple document with your personal information containing a summary of financial information, insurance, location of important papers, and any other information that may be helpful to survivors. It would also be a good guide should you become incapacitated and would be helpful to a conservator or the executor of your estate.
Wills and Living Trusts
It goes without saying that you should have a will and, depending on your financial situation, a Living Trust. Simple wills do not require the services of an attorney, and there are several sites online that will assist in their preparation. Living Trusts are a bit more involved in that they serve you not only while you are alive but also after death, much the same as a simple will. You manage the Living Trust during your lifetime as its Trustee; and upon your death, your designated Trustee carries out any further instructions of the trust.
Advance Health Care Directive
An Advance Health Care Directive, sometimes referred to as a “Living Will,” is a written document declaring the type and extent of medical care you desire in the event that you become incapacitated. An Advance Health Care Directive is the best way to make your medical and health care wishes known and to insure that those wishes are followed, including directions regarding the use of lifeprolonging equipment and procedures.
By completing an Advance Health Care Directive form, the law, in essence, allows you to have a say regarding your medical care wishes when you are otherwise not able to speak and make the same known. Without an Advance Health Care Directive, your family may act on their own accord rather than yours, i.e., you may not want to prolong your life if it means being completely incapacitated and kept alive by means of a respirator, etc. Your doctors are required to follow the written instructions contained in your Advance Health Care Directive. Likewise, any person that may be designated as your Health Care Agent or “proxy” is also required to follow your written instructions.
Again, there are many sites that provide on-line forms; but be aware that some states require specific wording and forms, and you should use the form that applies to your current state of residence.
Power of Attorney
With a power of attorney you (the Principal) grant another person (an Agent or Attorney-in-Fact) the legal authority or permission to make decisions, as if it were yourself making those decisions. It is up to you to decide how extensive or limited those powers should be!
The Agent will be able to handle the Grantor’s affairs during a period of time when the Grantor is unavailable or unable to do so. A General Power of Attorney authorizes the Agent to act in a variety of situations. In contrast, a Special Power of Attorney authorizes an Agent to act on his or her behalf in specific situations only (i.e., Health Care Power of Attorney).
Those decisions concerning organ donation are among the most important that can be made – it could mean the difference between life and death for another person. In the matter of your choices about organ donation, you need to be sure that your loved ones know your wishes and that they agree to follow whatever decision you make concerning your body. You may think that you have already made your wishes known by signing the organ donation form on your state driver’s license, but that alone may not guarantee that your wishes will be carried out. In many states, next of kin will be asked for consent for organ harvesting despite a signed consent of the patient. If your next of kin decline to give consent, your organs will not be donated.
Donations can be made of a variety of organs: liver, heart, kidneys, bones, and tissue (including cartilage, marrow, skin, eardrums, and corneas). Human tissues include pituitary glands, the dura mater and other brain tissues, middle ears, ear bones, heart valves, and other organ subparts.
Two physicians with no interest in the transplant must find the patient “utterly and irretrievably deceased.” After being declared brain dead, the organ donor is placed on a respirator until the organs are removed.
Funeral Home Arrangements
Deciding to make funeral, cemetery, or cremation final arrangements yourself requires a level of maturing and sophistication in life. Doing so lifts the burden from your loved ones by relieving decision-making pressure at a time of grief and emotional stress. This information should be incorporated into your will or Living Trust. Many of the items and services offered are regulated by your state; and if you have questions about the laws in your state, you may contact the licensing board that regulates the funeral industry in your state. Regardless of a veteran’s status at death, active or retired, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide military funeral honors; the Defense Department does. However, the VA, active-duty military, and many veterans groups pool their resources to provide financial help, practical assistance, and military honors on such occasions. The funeral director normally handles the details of getting an honor guard. An adjutant general’s office, duty officer, or commander’s office at a local installation or reserve training center also can provide this service.
The information stated above has been garnered for many sources and should not be taken in other than an advisory manner. If you have a legal question, you should seek help from a legal professional. Take care.