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In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court on Friday recognized that a terminally-ill patient or a person in persistent vegetative state can execute an “advance medical directive” or a “living will” to refuse medical treatment, saying the right to live with dignity also includes “smoothening” the process of dying.

What is a Living Will?

It is essentially a document that sets out a patient’s wishes regarding how they want to be treated if they are seriously ill or in a permanently vegetative state. With this judgment, the right to die with dignity has been recognized as a fundamental right.

As regards personal finances, perhaps a big critical function that a living will performs is that it allows the maker of the will to prevent their family from financially overburdening themselves, sometimes to the extent of bankruptcy. Usually family members are spurred on out of love, guilt or a sense of duty to keep the patient alive, often at any cost. This results in the family’s financials going into disarray and jeopardizing their financial future and important life goals.

Who qualifies to write down a Living Will?

  • An adult who is of a sound and healthy mind and in a position to communicate, relate and comprehend the purpose and consequences of executing the document.
  • An adult must make such a will voluntarily 

What are the important items to cover in the document?

The judiciary has laid down guidelines on how such a document can be formed. They are as follows:

  • It should clearly indicate the decision relating to the circumstances in which medical treatment can be withdrawn.
  • Instructions must be absolutely clear and unambiguous.
  • It should mention whether the patient would like torevoke the instructions/authority at any time.
  • It should specifythat the patient has understood the consequences of executing such a document.
  • It should specify the name of a guardian or close relative who, in the event of the patient becoming incapable of taking decision at the relevant time, will be authorized to give consent to refuse or withdraw medical treatment
  • It should be in writing and should clearly state as to when medical treatment may be withdrawn or if specific medical treatment that will have the effect of delaying the process of death should be given.
  • If there is more than one valid Advance Directive, the most recently signed Advance Directive will be considered as the last expression of the patient‘s wishes and will be implemented.

How should this document be stored? 

The Supreme court has further laid down a road map on how the Living Will needs to be stored safely:

  • The living will should be signed by the maker in the presence of two witnesses. It should be countersigned by the judicial magistrate of first class (JMFC), confirming that the will has been drawn up voluntarily.
  • The JMFC will maintain a copy of the will and forward a copy to the registry of the district court of that jurisdiction.

Implementation of a Living Will 

The Supreme Court has described various checks on how a living will may be implemented:

  • Execution of the will can only be done if the medical board approves it. The medical board will consist of the head of the treating department and at least three experts from various specialized medical fields with at least 20 years of experience. The board can only give their certification (or not) in presence of the closest relatives. Furthermore, the board’s certification is only preliminary.
  • Once the board approves, the hospital has to inform the jurisdictional collector of the same. The collector will then appoint a separate board consisting of the Chief District Medical Office and three other experts from specialized medical fields. If this board approves the same, the chief medical officer will relay the decision to the jurisdictional magistrate who will then have to visit the patient at the earliest and authorize the implementation.

Any advantages of a Living Will?

  • Providesrespect towards a human being’s fundamental right to live and die smoothly
  • Doctors are likely to suggest appropriate procedures and medication knowing what the patient wantsas per his living will
  • A living willspares both the doctor and immediate relatives from taking difficult decisions
  • A living will could also spare the immediate family from the financial burden that comes up in cases of unnecessarilyprolonged medical procedures for a terminally ill family member

While Living Wills are common in the west, it is a very new concept in India. Although the general verdict, by and large is that this is a positive step in the right direction the complexity is still something that needs to be addressed.

 

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Ulips

 

Unlike a pure insurance policy, a Unit Linked Insurance Plan (ULIP) is a product designed to give investors the benefits of both insurance and investment under a single integrated plan. ULIPs are insurance + investment plans suited for investors with long investment horizons. They work well with investors who may not otherwise keep the discipline of investing as they usually come with long lock ins and high exit costs.

The tempting benefit ULIPs offer is the administrative convenience of not needing to execute the two legs of transactions i.e. insurance and investments separately.

From our experience with investors, we understand that there’s a good chance you already own a Unit Linked insurance plan (ULIP) that either your parents bought for you, or you landed up buying one in the hurry scurry of tax related investments, only to realize later that one should not be mixing insurance and investments.

In the case that you may have purchased a ULIP or you may be contemplating to buy one, it is critical to know a few important items related to them so that you are more aware of what you have or might get yourself into.

 

1. Understand the purpose for purchasing the ULIP – tax planning cannot be the sole motive

While tax planning is clearly on the agenda, you should also assess the objective for which you want to purchase an insurance policy. Is the policy being bought for long term wealth creation, retirement planning or building a corpus for your child’s future? A decision that is prompted solely by the need to save taxes often results in the purchase of a wrong or an unsuitable product.

 

2. Check the charges carefully

All Ulips come with a host of charges. Understanding each of them is crucial to understanding if the product is suitable or not. Such charges include:

  • Premium Allocation Charges: As the name suggests, these fees are to cover expenses incurred by the company to allocate funds, do the underwriting, medical expenses, etc.Your agents commission is also covered under this head.
  • Policy Administrative Charges: These are the charges that are deducted on a timely basis to recover the expenses incurred to maintain the policies under the fund.
  • Surrender Charges: Similar to the exit loadin a mutual fund, these are the charges applicable when encashing a part or the full investment in a plan. As we know that in most of the Mutual Funds, exit load is at about one percent. In ULIPs, surrender charges could vary from a few percentage points to very exhorbitant amounts, basically to deter investors from exiting the plan in a short horizon.
  • Mortality Charges: These are the fees that are deducted on a monthly basis to cover the costs borne by the insurerfor providing a life cover to the policy holder. Depending on the age and the sum insured, these charges are deducted for life cover.
  • Fund Management Charges: The allocation of investment in debt and equity requires the insurer to bear the costs of managing the fund.These are charged as fund management charges.
  • Fund Switching Charges: As the name suggests, switching from one fund to another requires the insuredto pay an amount for covering the expenses borne by the company for making the switch.

 

3. Understand the flexibility to Switch

An investor’s need for liquidity, time horizon, and risk appetite will determine the initial allocation but these change over time. ULIPs offer the flexibility of switching between the funds based on changes in market cycles and changes in investor preferences. The number of free switches during a policy year, the cost of switches and the ease of switching are factors that are important evaluation points when choosing a ULIP.

 

4. Analyse and estimatperformance

With the complexity of the ULIP structure plus the huge list of charges and expenses that comes with it, it is difficult to approximate the kind of performance the product may have given during its existence. Always insist with the insurance agent/advisor to show illustrations and data demonstrating how the fund would has performed and is likely perform considering markets ups and downs. More often that not, data would help you decide better on the decision to invest or not.

 

Probably the only benefit, though largely accidental, of an ULIP is that the investor’s money is locked in due to the structure of a ULIP, forcing him to think long term. However, it is needless to say that other options must also be evaluated in comparison to ULIPs before making a choice to invest in them. The most common strategy might be a combination of Pure Term Life insurance policies along with separate investments in Mutual Funds. But like every investment decision, the first step to take is to determine the investment horizon and risk appetite and not get swayed by fancy words or past performance.

 

 

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