Each state has different rules regarding who becomes the default decision-maker if you do not have a health care proxy or some other means of expressing your treatment wishes. If you become unable to make medical decisions because you are incapacitated by a temporary or permanent injury or illness, anyone from your next of kin to hospital administrators could be making treatment decisions on your behalf.

If you are able, it is important you put your health care wishes in writing. If you do not:

  • Your family may have to go through a costly and time-consuming court process to get the legal right to make medical decisions for you (called guardianship or conservatorship).
  • Your family members may disagree on who should make medical decisions on your behalf, which could lead to legal disputes.
  • Someone unfamiliar with your preferences may be placed in charge of your treatment decisions.

Remember: A health care proxy document only provides guidance around your medical preferences. It is also a good idea to complete a power of attorney document so that a trusted individual can make non-medical decisions on your behalf as well.

Note: If you are physically unable to create desired documents, oral instructions—properly witnessed—will in most cases be legally honored.