Cynthia McKennedy: The Importance of Living Wills

Oct 27, 2020
Estate Planning Living Trusts Wills / Power of Attorney

Nobody likes to think about needing a living will. For the majority of us, the idea of being medically incapacitated is terrifying. However, having a living will on hand is extremely important.

A “living will” is a form of advanced care directive. Essentially, it is a legal document which outlines your particular preferences for medical care if you cannot make these decisions on your own. In fact, a living will is of more immediate concern for the majority of American adults as compared to many other aspects of estate planning: while it is common to wait until later in life for many big estate planning moves like creating living trusts, it is possible for a human to be medically incapacitated at any age.

What does a living will cover?

A living will can address many issues of emergency (or end-of-life) care. When you are creating your living will, it is important to consider your personal values and what standard of life you would prefer to have. Many people would feel like life was “not worth living” in certain circumstances, while others believe in life at all costs. No matter what your personal opinions are where this is concerned, a living will can ensure that your wishes are honored.

Common issues a living will addresses includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, tube feeding and organ or tissue donation. Not having a living will in place often means that your (likely emotional) family members will struggle to make decisions for you, or, as in the case of the late Cynthia McKennedy, the doctors might make decisions that you would not agree with if you were able.

What happened to Cynthia McKennedy? 

Cynthia McKennedy was in her mid-80s and suffering from Alzheimer's. Fortunately, Cynthia created a comprehensive living will before her condition completely incapacitated her. Her living will included a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. Eventually, her health took a turn for the worse. However, even though Cynthia's wishes were clearly outlined in her living will, the physicians put her on a respirator when she got to the hospital.

Cynthia had a daughter, Louise. Originally, Louise thought that the time Cynthia spent on the respirator would be temporary. However, Cynthia did not recover and in turn depended on the respirator to stay alive. At this point, Louise reminded the physicians about her mother's living will. Keeping Cynthia alive via a respirator was in direct conflict with Cynthia's stated wishes in the living will.

To Louise's great surprise, the physician rebuffed the living will at first, claiming that he did not want to be responsible for killing Cynthia. Louise had to enlist the services of a lawyer and threaten legal action for the hospital to comply with Cynthia's living will. They removed Cynthia from the respirator and Cynthia passed away three days later, as per her wishes outlined in the living will.

The importance of thinking ahead

If Cynthia McKennedy did not have a solid advance healthcare directive in place, this story could have ended very differently. Even if you have verbally stated to family members that you have specific wishes should you be medically incapacitated, it is very possible for physicians to attempt to overrule this. Cynthia's living will helped preserve her wishes when she was not able to voice them. Contact us today at AmeriEstate to learn more about creating a living will.