Who will make medical decisions for you if you’re incapacitated?

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2023 | Estate Planning

When an individual becomes incapacitated, unable to communicate or make decisions due to medical reasons, the question of who will make medical decisions on their behalf becomes a primary concern. Two critical legal tools are crucial in this scenario: advance directives and powers of attorney.

Both of these provide a way for individuals to express their wishes and appoint decision-makers in advance to ensure that their medical care aligns with their preferences even when they can’t voice them themselves due to an accident, illness or other serious medical concern. Once the creator of these documents passes away, the healthcare power of attorney ends, so the person doesn’t have any power to make post-mortem decisions.

Advance directives

Advance directives are legal documents that outline an individual’s preferences for medical treatment if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. This document usually includes a living will. It can also encompass directives regarding specific medical treatments the individual wishes or doesn’t want to receive under certain conditions.

A living will, for instance, allows a person to relay their preferences about life-sustaining treatments such as mechanical ventilation or tube feeding in scenarios where recovery is unlikely. A Do Not Resuscitate Order may also be included in someone’s plans if that’s a person’s wish.

The primary purpose of an advance directive is to provide clear guidance to healthcare professionals and family members about an individual’s choices, thereby reducing ambiguity and the risk of potential conflicts during critical medical decisions.

Powers of attorney

A healthcare power of attorney designates another person to make medical decisions on the incapacitated individual’s behalf. This designation is crucial because it ensures that someone the individual trusts is authorized to interpret and implement their wishes and to make decisions guided by their understanding of the individual’s values and preferences, especially those that aren’t explicitly addressed in a living will or other directives.

The appointed agent usually has broad authority to make healthcare decisions, including choosing medical treatments to selecting healthcare providers and care facilities. Ideally, the person who has power of attorney will have the opportunity to discuss the creator’s wishes with them beforehand. This could help them to make decisions that are better aligned with the creator’s desires.