Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, March 8, 2007

"Run for Your Life"

GazarraSome of you may remember the old television series entitled Run For Your Life starring Ben Gazzara as a lawyer who is told in the first episode by his doctor that he will die in one to two years.  The show lasted three years -- much longer than his predicted life expectancy.

Research has shown, however, the doctors are more likely to over estimate a person's life expectancy.  According to Jane E. Brody, Tough Question to Answer, Tough Answer to Hear, NY Times, March 6, 2007,

Out of fear, ignorance or concern for their patients’ emotional well-being, [doctors] tend to be overly optimistic. * * *

The team, from the Mayo Clinic, cited a study in which survival predictions were made for 468 patients in hospice programs, meaning they had stopped treatment to prolong their lives. Only 20 percent of the predictions were accurate; 63 percent were too optimistic. * * *

In general, researchers have found that doctors tend to overestimate patient survival by a factor of three to five.

It is important for estate planners to recognize this tendency so that they take appropriate steps to plan their clients' estates in a timely manner.

Special thanks to Neil E. Hendershot of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania law firm of Goldberg Katzman, P.C., who also authors the PA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog, for bringing this article to my attention.


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