Night of the Living Will: free legal help for families

Night of the Living Will, Phoenix, Arizona
Lawyers will help families fill out healthcare directives and living wills — at no cost — on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Nothing could be more frightening than being forced to make tough decisions about a loved one’s health or long-term care when they can’t participate in the discussion.

To remove that “specter” — and because it’s nearing Halloween — volunteer lawyers dressed as storybook characters will provide free assistance to families needing to establish healthcare directives and living wills.

Night of the Living Will takes place in the daytime — from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 — at the Beatitudes Campus, 1610 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix. By playing off the Halloween theme, lawyers hope to turn a potentially intimidating process into a fun family event.

If you’re thinking, “I’m young, I’m healthy … I don’t need to think about this now,” think again. Healthcare directives are important for anyone who could potentially be involved in an emergency medical situation. (So, basically, anyone.)

We posed some questions to Scottsdale attorney Jennifer Kupiszewski, who is participating in the event. Kupiszewski specializes in special-needs and elder law, and she is chair of the Elder Law, Mental Health & Special Needs Planning Section of the State Bar of Arizona, which is hosting the event.

Who needs a healthcare directive? Everyone over age 18 should have a healthcare directive and living will, because accidents happen. You could have an unexpected injury or illness — a work or car accident, a fall or stroke — that requires others to make your healthcare decisions. People in good health sometimes have periods of time when they need help and can’t tell their doctors what they need.

What happens if I don’t have a healthcare directive? Your family may need to go to court to obtain the legal authority to make your healthcare decisions. It is expensive and difficult. If you’ve had an accident, having your healthcare directive in place will spare them that added stress.

In an emergency, don’t hospitals allow a spouse, parent or adult child to make healthcare decisions? Yes, under the healthcare surrogacy law, but that is limited. If your loved one needs decisions made about longer-term care or treatments — or moving to a nursing facility — the law may not apply, and the person will need a healthcare agent.

A Living Will is a written statement that expresses your wishes about medical treatment that would delay death from a terminal condition.Can a spouse, parent or adult child make end-of-life decisions? Maybe, if the decision is pretty clear to all and there is no disagreement among family members or with the hospital. Otherwise, the medical providers will look to a person’s living will for guidance.

Is this something I need to do before undergoing surgery? Yes, prior to any major hospital event, an individual should have a healthcare directive on file with the hospital. Hospitals may offer Do Not Resuscitate forms but typically not the entire healthcare directive and living-will package. Also, hospital personnel likely won’t be able to notarize the documents, so filling them out once you are in the hospital can be a challenge.

Why would lawyers give up time on a Saturday to volunteer for this event? We see the cost and anguish of the families who don’t have these in place when something unexpected happens. Hawaii has had this event through its law school for 20 years. The executive board of the Elder Law, Mental Health & Special Needs Planning Section of the State Bar of Arizona pushed to bring this event to Arizona, because we believed in the importance of raising awareness in our community. This is a situation where the fix is so easy. We wanted to share and see people avoid a costly legal outcome.

Is there any charge? No, it is free, and your family can have a snack while you wait. Kids can do a little trick-or-treating. The lawyers will be dressed as storybook characters. I’ll be the one running around as Junie B. Jones.

How long will it take? Filling out the documents shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. This is our first event, so we don’t how long the wait will be. It will be first come, first served. Those who RSVP will get priority, but if you don’t RSVP we will still see you.

If I come, should I bring anything? Identification to notarize the documents.

What if I can’t make it to the event? A Life Care Planning Packet is available online at Tell your family and friends.

IF YOU GO: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Beatitudes Campus, 1610 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix. 480-426-2641 or