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Caring For Generations

Who decides your medical care if you cannot?

On Behalf of | Oct 9, 2019 | family law and estate planning

Your approach to your health care is unique based on your family history, your religious and philosophical beliefs, your personal preferences and even your pain tolerance. Each decision you make likely comes after a discussion with your Indiana doctor where you provide the descriptions of your symptoms, and he or she suggests tests and treatment options based on those.

But what if you are in a serious accident and you are not able to communicate with the doctor? Who will have the discussion in your place? Who will make the choices for you?

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, the state actually has a list of who will decide on your behalf if you cannot, and your doctor will contact the people on this list to find a representative to speak for you. Here they are, in order:

  1. A court-appointed guardian or representative
  2. Spouse
  3. Adult child
  4. Parent
  5. Adult sibling
  6. Grandparent
  7. Adult grandchild
  8. Adult friend
  9. Nearest other adult relative not already listed

There are some caveats to this list. For example, if you and your spouse are legally separated or there is a no contact order, then, of course, the spouse would not be considered. But what if the result of the priority list is that your adult children will decide for you, and they do not agree on what treatment you should receive? In that case, the majority rules.

If this process makes you feel uncomfortable, then here is some good news: You can make all your medical care decisions ahead of time, and the doctor is legally required to honor your choices. You can do this through advance directives, which include:

  • Creating a living will in which you express your health care wishes
  • Designating a health care representative you trust to make the choices you would make for yourself
  • Creating a durable power of attorney in which you designate a person to take care of your affairs if you cannot
  • Choosing to become an organ donor

You can use any or all of these and other documents to ensure that incapacitation does not leave every aspect of your life in the hands of others who may not know or understand your preferences. Because options and outcomes depend on the individual, this general information should not be interpreted as legal advice.