Your Guardian, Your Estate Plan and End-of-Life Decisions

In neighboring Minnesota, the state Supreme Court is considering whether the law in that state gives court-appointed guardians the authority to withhold medical care for their wards, and allow them to die. Although the outcome of this case would only impact the law in Minnesota, and have no impact on guardians and ward in Wisconsin, the court case and its underlying facts have lessons from which Wisconsinites can benefit.
Jeffers Tschumy was a man with mental disabilities who lived in a group home. In 2008, a court appointed a guardian to make certain decisions, including medical ones, on behalf of the man. In 2012, Tschumy choked on a piece of food and, although caregivers saved his life, he suffered extensive brain damage.

Tschumy had no known relatives and had never completed a health care power of attorney or advance directive. The man’s guardian sought a court ruling stating that the guardian had the sole power to terminate Tschumy’s life support. The trial court ruled against the guardian. An appeals court later reversed that ruling. The Supreme Court, in weighing the opposing sides in the case, was left to consider whether the Minnesota legislature, in creating the statutes governing guardians’ conduct, intended to empower them with such broad control and whether the law should really give guardians the unchecked power to end their wards’ lives.

Here in Wisconsin, the law governing guardians’ authority is already limited. Two major Supreme Court rulings, In Matter of Guardianship of L.W. and In the Matter of the Guardianship and Protective Placement of Edna M.F., have set up certain boundaries. Based on these decisions, guardians may order the cessation of a ward’s life support, but only if the ward is in a “persistent vegetative state.” In L.W., the court permitted the guardian to order the end of life support. The Supreme Court approved this outcome because doctors for L.W., a man with schizophrenia who suffered severe harm resulting from a cardiac arrest, declared him in a persistent vegetative state. The Supreme Court later rejected a similar request from the guardian of Edna M.F., largely because her doctors determined that the ward, although suffering from extremely advanced Alzheimer’s dementia, was not in a persistent vegetative state.

Tschumy’s case shows just how vital proper estate planning is, especially if you have strong end-of-life care preferences. Through a properly drafted and executed health care power of attorney and living will, you can maintain control over what happens to you should you become gravely ill. Without this planning, not even a court-appointed guardian can help you if you have preference not to receive life-extending care but are not in a persistent vegetative state.

To make sure your end-of-life wishes are recorded in a way that will allow your medical providers to honor them, consult the Madison estate planning attorneys of Estate Law Partners, LLC. They can give you with the advice and the legal documents you need to ensure that you maintain control, even after you cannot speak for yourself.

Reach us through our website to schedule your confidential, no obligation initial consultation.

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