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Estate Planning Lessons in the Death of Whitney Houston’s Daughter, Elder Law Attorney, Woodstock, GA


Bobbi Kristina Brown’s tragic death offers a number of poignant end-of-life lessons for parents, young adults, and seniors alike. First and foremost, health and legal experts say Brown’s death spotlights the need for establishing written advance medical directives as early as age 18. These include the designation of a healthcare proxy, a living will, and a “HIPAA Release,” clearing the way for a healthcare agent to communicate with providers about the care of a patient who is in a coma or otherwise incapacitated. Such planning is typically viewed as a concern for older Americans, but younger people — like Brown — can also find themselves unable to communicate their end-of-life wishes as a result of accidents, brain injuries, infections, or other illnesses.

Last week’s NewsMax article, titled “End-of-Life Lessons of Bobbi Kristina’s Tragic Death,” suggests that parents of college-bound freshman (18 and older) should think about having a healthcare designation, a living will, HIPPA release, and durable power of attorney prepared for the ‘new’ adult so that parents can act on behalf of their kids if the unforeseen occurs.

Bobbi Kristina was only 22 and the only child of the late Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. She passed away after a very public six-month family fight over how to treat the comatose Brown, after she was found face-down in a bathtub in the Atlanta townhome she shared with her boyfriend Nick Gordon.

This story illustrates the difficulties families deal with when confronted with complex healthcare decisions. The article emphasizes the need to create advance medical directives to help family members of patients. These end-of-life instructions should be in a legal document, prepared by an estate planning attorney so that it satisfies the requirements of state law. The directives should include:

  • A Healthcare Designation. This is a very critical part of an advance directive, as a “healthcare designation” or “healthcare proxy” names an individual you authorized to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so on your own. This friend or relative is given what is also called “durable healthcare power of attorney (POA).” This allows them to speak on your behalf.
  • A HIPPA Release. This allows your proxy to communicate with your healthcare providers about your care.
  • A Living Will. This formal statement communicates your wishes for medical care should you end up in a “persistent vegetative state” with little or no chance of recovery, and you can’t communicate your wishes. Talk to an estate planning attorney as every state has its own regulations for living wills.
  • Treatment Restrictions. You should spell out exactly the circumstances under which you would want to have life-sustaining care or when you want to pass, many times with only medication for pain. Distribute copies to your doctor, family members, and (if appropriate) close friends. The article lists several specific treatments you might want to 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.

It’s no shock that end-of-life planning is a difficult topic to discuss. Just 26.3% of Americans have completed advance directives, according to a 2013 study. But as the Bobbi Kristina Brown case shows, it’s important and never too early to discuss this topic with spouses, family members, partners, adult children, and parents.

Reference: NewsMax (July 31, 2015)“End-of-Life Lessons of Bobbi Kristina’s Tragic Death”

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