A medical directive is a legal document that contains instructions regarding a person’s health care decisions if they should become incapacitated. If a person becomes incapacitated, they may not be able to make medical decisions at that moment. Therefore, medical directive helps prepare the person for such situations by naming a “proxy” or representative who will make such decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.

Medical directives are also called other names, such as living wills, advance healthcare directive, or “power of attorney for healthcare”. The document provides a written record of the person’s intentions, which can help prevent legal disputes over health care issues.

What Does a Medical Directive Cover?

A medical directive is usually limited to decisions regarding health care.  Other matters, such as property distribution, are typically covered by a person’s last will and testament. A medical directive will contain specific instructions that cover issues including:

  • Which person will serve as the proxy (the agent representing the person)
  • The scope of the proxy’s decision-making authority
  • Specific instructions regarding medical treatments, medicines, surgeries and transplants, donating organs, etc.
  • Final arrangements in some cases
  • Whether the directive will expire if the person recovers their health
  • How legal disputes will be resolved (i.e., through a lawsuit vs. negotiations or other alternative methods)

The instructions contained in the directive should be as specific and as clear as possible. This will help prevent any additional confusion if the document does need to be enforced. When drafting the medical directive, it may be helpful to speak with a physician and an attorney while reviewing the terms.

What If There is a Dispute over a Medical Directive?

Disputes over a medical directive can lead to some serious legal issues. The person’s health may be at stake, so it may be necessary to take action quickly to resolve any disputes. A medical directive is basically governed by principles found in contract law, so a court will usually look to the written document in order to clarify any errors or misunderstandings.

A common dispute is where the proxy disregards or breaches the instructions contained in the medical directive. This is a major violation, as the proxy has a duty to obey directive instructions once they accept their role. If the proxy’s action (or lack of action) causes injury to the plaintiff, they may become liable for a damages award.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Medical Directive?

Medical directives are a commonly used tool for securing one’s future health and safety. You may wish to hire a competent estate lawyer in your area if you need help creating, drafting, or editing a medical directive. Your attorney can review the document to ensure that it meets state law requirements, and that your rights as a patient won’t be violated. Also, your attorney can provide legal representation in the event of a lawsuit being filed.