Over the holidays, I, like many Americans, went to the movies. One of the movies I saw was The Descendants, starring George Clooney. While the main plot of the movie deals with family and relationships, there are also a few interesting estate planning issues present in the film. Without giving too much away, George Clooney's character, Matt King, is a Honolulu based real estate lawyer. He is also the sole trustee of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of land on Kauai. The trust will expire in seven years because of the rule against perpetuities, so the family must sell the land.
Matt's wife, Elizabeth, is involved in a boating accident. As a result, she is in an irreversible coma. Thankfully, Elizabeth had the foresight to prepare living will, in which she makes clear her wishes that she not be kept alive by any life sustaining treatment, such as life support.
A living will is also referred to as an advanced directive, a patient advocate, or a durable power of attorney for healthcare. In Michigan, the document is called a patient advocate. A patient advocate allows for a person, called the principal, to clearly state their end of life wishes and to appoint an agent to carry out those wishes on the principal's behalf. Additionally, a patient advocate provides the principal the ability to delegate to the agent the power to make everyday healthcare decisions should the principal become incapacitated. Finally, a properly drafted patient advocate eliminates the need for a court appointed Guardian, in most cases.
The movie serves as a good illustration of how important estate planning is, both to ensure that your wishes are followed after your death through a trust, and that your wishes are followed if you're incapacitated through a living will, also known as a patient advocate. Despite Elizabeth's young age, her living will, made clear her end of life decisions and saved the family the unnecessary heartache that they would have encountered had she not have her affairs in order.