Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

(425) 455-5513

A Heartbreaking Case…

Posted Monday, October 8, 2012 by John S. Palmer

…that speaks to the benefit of estate planning even when the individual is young and healthy.

On October 5th, an appellate court in New York ruled that Grace SungEun Lee, 28, who is suffering from brain cancer and is being kept alive by a ventilator, had the right to cease medical treatment over the objections of her parents, who oppose the withdrawal of life support for religious reasons and do not believe Grace is competent to make that decision due to the effects of depression and medication. Her doctors have maintained that she clearly expressed a desire to be removed from life support to end her suffering.

The day after the court ruling, Grace changed her mind and signed a health care proxy appointing her father to make medical decisions on her behalf.

Grace’s parents are undoubtedly acting in accordance with deeply held beliefs and all involved appear to be acting in what they believe to be her best interests. However, from a legal perspective the case presents an example of the potential benefit of signing documents while still healthy that express, in advance, your wishes regarding the type of treatment you would want in the case of a terminal illness.

The two most common types of documents used in Washington for this purpose are a Health Care Directive, also known as a Living Will, and a Durable Power of Attorney.

Typically, the Health Care Directive directs that all medical treatment (and artificial nutrition and hydration as well, if so desired) be withdrawn under certain circumstances, such as if you have been diagnosed as suffering from a terminal condition or permanent unconscious condition; however a Health Care Directive may also direct that medical treatment not be withdrawn.

A Durable Power of Attorney names an agent (formally known as an attorney-in-fact) to make medical decisions for you, and carry out the terms of your Healthcare Directive; while it can be effective immediately, it is usually made effective only if you become incapacitated and unable to make such decisions yourself. If no Power of Attorney is signed before an individual becomes incapacitated, a court would have to appoint a legal guardian to make decisions for you, often a close family member or friend.

Many people put off estate planning, particularly if they are young and/or have modest assets. However, it would be wise for any adult, young or old, to execute these healthcare-related documents naming someone they trust to make medical decisions on their behalf, particularly if they know a close family member would not honor their wishes or fight to prevent their wishes from being carried out. Washington law even permits a Power of Attorney to contain a clause directing that specific individuals have no right to bring a court petition challenging the validity of the Power of Attorney or the actions taken by an attorney-in-fact.

While executing such documents would not necessarily avoid a dispute such as this, they could help minimize the likelihood one would occur, and help ensure that any court ruling is in accord with your wishes.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (425) 455-5513, toll free at (877) 455-5513, or

Local: (425) 455-5513
Toll Free: (877) 455-5513
Fax: (425) 455-5546
Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056