Luke Perry’s Death Demonstrates the Importance of Planning for Incapacity

Filed under Common Mistakes, End of Life, Estate Planning, Estate Planning Blog, Healthcare | By

In late February, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support. Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his children, fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be saddened when someone so young and seemingly healthy passes away suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who we are.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can motivate us to savor life now AND act to protect the ones we love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death
Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. But since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was a start but not nearly enough.

Wills only apply to the distribution of assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

The power over medical decisions
During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.

Granting medical powers of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Without medical powers of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind. 

Learn from Perry’s example
Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, you owe it to your loved ones to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if something happens to you.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,