Prevent Legal Headaches: Think Ahead

Many adults are too young to remember the Terry Schiavo case that began in 1990, after Schiavo, age 26, suffered massive brain damage that left her in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband sought to remove her feeding tube, believing it’s what she would have wanted, but her parents fought him in court for 15 years.

By the time her tube was removed, in 2005, the case had seen 14 appeals in Florida courts, five suits in federal district court and extensive involvement by the Florida legislature, Gov. Jeb Bush, the U.S. Congress and President George Bush. Even the Vatican got involved.

This painful and expensive slugfest could have been avoided had Schiavo put her end-of-life wishes in writing before illness struck. But what 26-year-old thinks of doing that?

“After that case, the living will became a hot topic,” says attorney Jim Meason. “It’s a written directive to your doctor that details your desire regarding medical treatment if you’re no longer able to say it.”

End-of-life planning isn’t just for the elderly, as Schiavo’s case proved. A sudden injury or illness can change anyone’s fate in a moment.

In addition to preparing a living will, every adult should specify a power of attorney for healthcare decisions and for property. If you live in Illinois and your total assets, including your home, exceed $100,000 ($50,000 in Wisconsin), you should prepare a trust, says Meason.

“Some advanced planning can prevent so much heartache and frustration for people you leave behind,” says Meason. “It doesn’t take long to do and is way less expensive and time-consuming than if your estate has to go through probate.”

He adds, “None of us wants to deal with our mortality,” says Meason. “And really, a lot of people just aren’t used to paying for the professional services of an attorney. But my typical client is someone who knows someone who just went through a nightmare because someone else didn’t think ahead and left a mess behind for others to deal with.”

Meason’s services include family law, estate planning, real estate, business law and environmental law. Find him at 113 N. Main St. in Rockton, Ill., go to or call (815) 624-6517. ❚