Friday, June 05, 2009

CSI: Divorce

What is forensic accounting?

See my recent article, explaining the concept as it relates to divorce, here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Difficult Healthcare Decisions

But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy (1789)

Long ago, Benjamin Franklin warned us of the inevitability of the end of life. Of course, he also commented on the quite unfortunate inevitability of taxes but that is a topic for a different day.

At some point in our lives, any of us may be unable to make our own healthcare choices. A particular poignant example of someone in this position was Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman whose medical care riveted the nation. Her inability to communicate left her medical decisions to others. Ultimately, her estranged husband, who was living with another woman with whom he had fathered children, made her decisions and controlled her estate.

Terry Schiavo had left no written instructions with regard to her wishes. Perhaps her husband did what she would have done. But perhaps not. (Her own family - mother, father, close relatives - vigorously and aggressively opposed her estranged husband’s decisions). Incidentally, the estranged husband was the only one with her when she suffered the debilitation that resulted in her need for medical care. Accordingly, he was the last person to see her conscious.

Most, if not all, people would not want an estranged spouse making decisions, especially someone who was living with someone else and raising children. Written instructions regarding your wishes can potentially avoid a Terry Schiavo-like nightmare.

By having an Advance Health Care Directive, you can document your wishes for your own medical care so that you can still be heard, even if there comes a time you cannot speak for yourself. In addition to a written directive, you can also decide who will be your spokesperson (your agent).

If you are ever faced with a serious medical problem, without a written directive, your family and other loved ones may have to make heart-wrenching decisions on your behalf. Should you receive a feeding tube? Breathing machine? Extraordinary measures? By spelling out your own thoughts on the treatment you would prefer, you can take some of the more difficult decisions out of their hands. A written directive can also potentially avoid a bedside battle erupting with regard to your medical care.

Health care directives are not simply for people with terminal illnesses or facing the end of life. Tragedy sometimes strike when we least expect it. Having a health care directive can ease the burden on those close to you during such a difficult time, while making sure that your wishes are followed.

Health care directives can come in a variety of forms. The two main types are a Living Will and a Healthcare Power of Attorney.

A Living Will allows you to document your wishes about medical treatment, life support and other major medical decisions. These instructions would generally take effect only when you cannot communicate on your own and you are either facing imminent death (like an end-stage medical condition) or are permanently unconscious. A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to name a person to make healthcare choices for you (your healthcare agent). You can restrict the types of choices that the agent makes for you as well as when and how that person would make your choices. Sometimes people prefer to make a combined directive that includes both the Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney.

For more information including sample forms, you can visit www.careforpa.org. You can also find information at www.myfamilywellness.org.

As Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney literally deal with life and death issues, your documents must meet certain criteria. Accordingly, you may want to consult with an attorney to make sure your documents include the necessary language and are drafted appropriately.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Spouse’s Signature Not A Life or Death Matter!

So many times, I hear people saying that their spouse will not "sign the divorce papers." However, in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, you do not need your spouse’s signature on divorce papers in order to finalize the divorce. Of course, a spouse’s cooperation will be helpful and make the process much more efficient and possibly cost effective, but you can get a divorce without your spouse’s signature.

On May 29, 2009, I read an article in the Sun Sentinel, a Broward County, Florida newspaper, that described the case of a woman who was charged with attempted murder of her husband. Apparently, the 51 year old woman held a knife to her husband’s throat and demanded he sign the divorce papers, as well as the deed to their house over to her. When he did not cooperate, she used a steak knife to begin slashing the fingers on his left hand.
She was arrested and charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Her bail was set at $75,000.

Obviously, this is an extreme case and I would imagine this woman’s pent up rage boiled over to the point where she took such a ridiculous action. However, these types of drastic measures are not necessary.