For a long time, I, like most people, put off the unpleasant task of drawing up a living will. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize the importance of having a plan in place in case I become incapacitated and decisions must be made about whether to extend my life through artificial means. This way, if I ever end up unconscious and on life support, those closest to me will know precisely the type of nasty, prolonged legal battle I would want.
I worked closely with my lawyer to put everything in writing, and then spoke to my loved ones so they would understand that should I ever require machines to maintain my vital functions, they could simply refer to this document, which clearly lays out my wishes for them to lawyer up and wage a legal war so long and traumatizing it tears the family apart.
Some tough conversations needed to be had. Over the course of a few weeks, I sat down separately with my wife, each of my four adult children, and several members of my extended family to detail who would take which side during the litigation, who would no longer be on speaking terms, who would and wouldn’t receive money from my estate to cover their legal fees, and how many agonizing months the whole ordeal would last.
It’s an important thing to do for your own peace of mind as well as for your family’s. The acrimonious legal maneuvering and bitter familial recriminations surrounding medical possibilities like mechanical ventilation and intubation are too important to leave to chance.
Had I not been explicit about what I want, how would my eldest son know to hire a real attack-dog lawyer who terrorizes his younger siblings while they’re still just beginning to cope with the impending death of their father? Which decades-old slights would my kids know to bring up in tears when filing suit against their stepmother, my current wife? And who, out of nowhere, should make a last-minute power play that suddenly throws the whole thing into arbitration?
I’ve designated one of my daughters to absolutely refuse to pull the plug no matter what. My other daughter, meanwhile, is to acquiesce after 90 grueling days, in defeat and sorrow, broken down about how everyone’s trying to kill her father. It’s a relief to know that, in the event I’m incapacitated, my final requests about which person suffers lasting emotional trauma and who sues who for power of attorney will be faithfully carried out.
The last thing I want is to burden my loved ones with tough decisions about how to create devastating rifts in the family that last for generations. No, I want to make those choices now, so they won’t have to later.
To be clear, I don’t expect to kick off anytime soon. But if, for example, I get hit by a car this afternoon and end up with a feeding tube in my nose and zero chance of regaining consciousness, I’d sure want everyone to be on the same page about which two of my relatives should wind up in a physical altercation that forces a nurse to call security and remove them from the hospital.
The same goes for if the messy situation blows up and becomes a big news story—a remote possibility, I realize, but one I’ve planned for nonetheless. Simply put, my younger sister is to break down on national TV and say things she’ll regret for the rest of her life.
Horrible things. Things the others will never forgive her for—each of which I’ve carefully stipulated in my living will.
But that’s just me. No doubt other people have very different wishes for how they want their family members to rip each other to emotional shreds should the unthinkable happen. Those are their preferences, and I’m not going to judge them. I’m just glad that my own loved ones now have a plan in place to rack up enormous legal costs while they duke it out for months on end, just the way I’ve chosen.
So, here’s a little advice. We all know that if, God forbid, we end up in a vegetative condition, it will be extremely wrenching for our families. But take it from me: Taking the time right now to decide just how legally, psychologically, and financially wrenching you want it to be for them will give you all the comfort you need.