3 minute read

Family vs Doctor: who makes the decisions when you can’t?

When you can no longer make medical decisions for yourself, who is left in charge? Keep reading to find out.

It is an unfortunate possibility that we could, one day, be in a situation where we could no longer make medical treatment or end-of-life decisions for ourselves. This could happen following a serious accident, due to severe illness, or age-related conditions. While it may be distressing to imagine such dire scenarios, it is, nevertheless, important to discuss and plan for life-altering circumstances that could impair one’s ability to make sound decisions. If we do not plan for the unexpected, there may be disastrous consequences that could have easily been avoided. Trust & Will, a leader in online estate planning services, recognized the seriousness of this topic and can help make the planning process much simpler.

At Trust & Will, our easy-to-navigate estate planning website can help you safeguard your decisions on how you prefer to handle medical and end-of-life decisions, guardianship of minors, asset protection, and much more. This article will primarily focus on estate planning matters that address how to ensure that your medical preferences are known if you should ever be in a situation where you can no longer communicate your wishes.

Keep reading to learn more about the following topics in regards to who will make decisions for you when you’re no longer in charge: 

When the doctors make the decisions

Regardless of whether or not you have other measures in place, there are instances when your doctor will need to make the decisions for you. Sometimes, doctors will need to make immediate medical determinations to preserve life - and there is not always time to spare when it comes to locating and consulting with family members, a Health Care Proxy, or a court-appointed official. For example, this may occur mid-surgery where any time wasted may result in severe injury or death. Therefore, your doctor will have to make immediate medical decisions they feel will produce the best outcome for their patients. Otherwise, it is likely the doctor will do their best to consult any of the above-mentioned guardians before proceeding with any medical treatment. 

When family will make the decisions 

If you are a minor, your parents will be the ones to make non-emergent medical decisions for you, as they are legally responsible for your life. However, if you have reached adulthood and are married, your spouse will now be seen as your immediate family and will be responsible for making your medical decisions in the event that you can no longer make decisions for yourself.

When a court-appointed official will make the decisions

So, what happens when you are over 18 years of age and not married? This is when a court-appointed official will come into play. Once you are over 18, your parents are no longer allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf without your express permission. This means that if you are also not married, a court-appointed official will be tasked with making medical decisions on your behalf. This is often not the ideal option, as your court-appointed official will not know your personal preferences. While they will do the best they can to make treatment decisions they deem appropriate, there is no guarantee that their decisions will align with your personal values and preferences. Your parents could also try to petition the court to explain why they should be appointed as your health proxy, but this could take time and delay the process. The best way to keep this situation from occurring is to instead create your Health Care Proxy documents in advance.

How a health care proxy can protect you

A Health Care Proxy, also known as a Medical Power of Attorney, is a legal document that allows you to appoint a trusted individual to make healthcare-related decisions on your behalf, in the event that you can no longer make decisions for yourself. This will allow you to overcome the complications of having a court-appointed official make decisions for you, or needing a loved one to petition the court for the role themselves. 

The biggest benefit of creating legal Health Care Proxy documents is that you will have control over who is chosen to make sound medical decisions on your behalf. Having an opportunity to sit down with your Health Care Proxy in advance, and to be able to express to them your health and end-of-life preferences, can avoid undesirable outcomes in the future. 

The importance of an advance directive 

Your final line of defense when it comes to ensuring that your wishes are met regarding end-of-life decisions is to have in writing an Advance Directive. An Advance Directive is a legal document that allows you to write down your wishes in regard to your medical treatment. For example, you will be able to state whether or not you would like extraordinary measures implemented to keep you alive if you were to be clinically diagnosed with brain death, advanced-stage terminal illness, or other medical determinations that would require significant measures of life-sustaining intervention. The biggest benefit of having an Advance Directive is that you will be able to make the important medical decisions in writing that your medical team can adhere to. Having an Advance Directive in conjunction with a Health Care Proxy will be the best option for protecting yourself. 

At Trust & Will, we understand how important it is to legally protect your medical decisions. That is why we have made it easier than ever to complete your state-specific Estate Plan online, including your Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive documents. With our online estate planning services, you can complete your comprehensive Estate Plan from the comfort of your couch. Unsure where to start? Don’t stress! We have a free online quiz to help guide you in the right direction.

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Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.