Wisconsin Lawyer: Your State Bar: A Holiday Gift Worth Receiving:

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    Your State Bar: A Holiday Gift Worth Receiving

    They never knew what hit them. In a moment, one life was gone and another life was shattered. Neither one had a will or medical directives. Making decisions now about your future financial and health-care needs may be the best gift you give your family this holiday season. 

    George C. Brown

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    A Gift to Your Family handbookIt happened quickly. They were driving home from a friend’s house early one Sunday evening. They’d probably enjoyed a good meal, and knowing Susan and Bill (not their real names), undoubtedly great conversation. Bill was driving, and I’m sure Susan was talking at her usual rapid, animated pace. I can see Bill laughing at her comments with that twinkle in his eyes as he glanced at his wife of nearly 30 years who he loved so much.

    The little Kia was racing at tremendous speed. High on drugs, the car stolen, the driver lost control, jumped the median, and slammed into Susan and Bill’s Dodge Charger. Susan, 65 years old, a highly regarded and awarded community volunteer with years of service to victims of AIDS and for the homeless and the hungry, died instantly. More than two months later, Bill, 67, a bear of a man whose gruff exterior belies his gentle nature that finds expression in his museum-quality sculptures of iron and steel, still fights for his life. He missed both Susan’s funeral and the citywide memorial service for the love of his life. I wonder if he will see the new year.

    Despite numerous serious health problems through the years, they must have thought they would live forever. They had no children, and they never made a will, power of attorney, or power of attorney for health care. Their assets are frozen. Bill’s nearest relatives live more than 1,000 miles away. Friends are doing what they can, but there is no directive. The doctors are beginning to ask if it is time to end the heroic efforts. But his family, who cannot travel to even visit their brother, are insisting that he be kept alive no matter the quality of his life.

    George C. Brownorg gbrown wisbar George C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    "Our lives can change in an instant. Do not hand to your family or friends the burden of making decisions that only you should be making."

    Our lives can change in an instant. As another holiday season is upon us, do not let your clients or your family move into the new year without clear directives about their future. Do not hand to your family or friends the burden of making decisions that only you should be making. Do not make them guess or squabble or fight over decisions that they should not have to make.

    The State Bar of Wisconsin’s A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs provides a useful guide for anyone to make decisions about their future medical needs and direction before an emergency exists. Cosponsored by the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Health and Hospital Association, the booklet is available at many hospitals and clinics around the state or it can be ordered through the State Bar, at www.wisbar.org. Some hospitals have built it into their patient-care procedures. Provisions for advanced-health-care directives are explained, and simple forms for the person to fill out are printed in the booklet. Now in its seventh edition, the booklet won the Lexis-Nexis Award of Excellence from the National Association of Bar Executives when it was first published in 2000.

    It may be the best gift you can give your family this holiday season.