Yesterday the news broke that the person who authorized doctors to remove Gary Coleman’s life support was his ex-wife.  She had this authority because Gary had signed an advance directive giving her the power to make medical decisions for him if he was unable to decide for himself.

Did Gary realize his ex-wife still had the authority to cut off his life support?  Most people wouldn’t want their ex-spouse to have that kind of control (some don’t even want their current spouse to have that authority!)  Did he forget to change this document?  How does this work in Tennessee?

Power of Attorney for Health Care

In Tennessee, we don’t have anything called an “advance directive”, but our law does authorize two documents for your use in this situation: a living will, and a Power of Attorney for Health Care. I’ll discuss living wills (and why I don’t recommend them) in another post.

A Power of Attorney for Health Care is a document you can sign giving another person the ability to make medical decisions for you.  The document can either take effect immediately, or it can be written in such a way that it only becomes effective if you become incompetent.

Coleman’s situation started as an example why such a document would be needed, as he hit his head and lost consciousness.  While he was “out” someone had to decide what the doctors should do for him.  Often doctors are faced with a situation where there is more than one option for the patient, and somebody needs to discuss the pros and cons with the medical personnel and pick which direction they should go.

In Coleman’s case, his ex-wife decided that rather than take the chance that Gary would be disabled, she decided to cut off his life support and let him die.

When do you want to die?

When considering giving somebody else this power, you should think about who you can trust to make these decisions using your values and wishes.  The Power of Attorney can include language giving this person guidance on what factors to consider when making these decisions.  In addition, you can leave a letter for the person along with the legal document.

Have you looked at your will lately?

Currently, nobody has produced a will signed by Gary Coleman although his Diff’rent Strokes costar Todd Bridges claims to have one.  This story promises to be interesting, as it looks like people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on whatever Coleman had left of his career.

What’s important here is as things change in your life, you really need to review important documents like your will and power of attorney.  Both of these documents name people who will have a considerable amount of control over your health and your assets at a time when you will have no say in the matter.  Do you still want these people in control?

If there have been major changes in your life lately, contact me and find out how I can help you modify or replace these documents in a way that better suits your current situation.