Making an advance directive is an important part of estate planning, especially as you get older or have a serious medical condition. If an illness or injury prevents you from communicating, these legal documents outline your preferences for medical care. However, some people wonder if their family can override their advance directive if they don’t like what it says.
What is an Advance Directive?
An advance directive is a legal document that conveys your preferences for medical care if you become incapacitated.
There are two main types of advance directives. A living will outline what medical treatments you want to receive or not receive if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It goes into effect only if you can no longer decide for yourself. A healthcare power of attorney appoints a trustworthy third party to act on your behalf. We refer to this individual as your healthcare agent.
Having an advance directive gives you more control over your medical treatment and can prevent disputes between family members about your care. Additionally, it keeps your loved ones from being forced to make tough decisions without being aware of your preferences.
Can Family Members Override an Advance Directive?
In general, your legally executed advance directive should be followed. However, there are certain situations where your family may be able to challenge your wishes:
If Your Wishes Aren’t Clearly Stated
If your advance directive is vague or leaves room for interpretation, your family or doctors may make a case to override it if a disagreement arises. Your advance directive must be detailed and clear about which treatments you want and under what circumstances. Being as specific as possible reduces the chances of it being contested.
If You Execute Multiple Contradictory Directives
Sometimes, people sign multiple advance directives but fail to update old copies. There may be inconsistencies between an old and new version. In this case, your most recent directive signed and witnessed should take precedence. Make sure to destroy outdated copies to avoid confusion.
If Your Family Questions Your Competency
Sadly, some families contest advance directives by claiming the person lacked mental capacity when signing it. They may argue the person was unduly influenced by someone else. To prevent this, sign your advance directive before serious illness when your judgment cannot be questioned.
If Your Wishes Conflict with Medical Advice
Doctors may be reluctant to provide treatment they consider medically inappropriate or unethical, even if your advance directive requests it. For example, demanding ineffective CPR when you’re terminally ill. In such cases, they may ask your healthcare agent or family for a court order to enforce your wishes.
If There’s No Proof You Have an Advance Directive
Your advance directive is meaningless if no one knows it exists when decisions need to be made. Ensure copies are given to your healthcare agent, close family members, and primary doctor. Registering it with your state’s advance directive registry is also good.
Tips for Making Your Advance Directive Legally Binding
While advance directives aren’t foolproof, you can take steps to strengthen yours and minimize the chances of it being contested:
- Consult with an attorney experienced in estate planning when creating your advance directive. They can ensure it complies with your state’s laws and reduces ambiguity.
- Be specific about which treatments you want and don’t want under what medical circumstances. Don’t leave room for interpretation.
- Update your advance directive periodically, especially after a new illness diagnosis or if your preferences change. Be sure to destroy old copies to avoid confusion.
- Sign it in front of two adult witnesses. Most states require two witnesses to make an advance directive legally binding. Notarizing it provides an extra layer of authentication.
- Name an alternate healthcare agent if your first choice cannot serve when needed. Also, name a second alternate agent as a backup.
- Give copies to all relevant parties like close family, your doctor, hospital, health care agent, and anyone named as an alternate agent. Also, register it with your state’s advance directive registry.
- Talk to your loved ones so they understand and support your medical wishes. This makes them less likely to contest your choices later on.
- Attach specific DNR orders if you want to refuse CPR or other life-prolonging interventions when dying. Discuss with your doctor to complete the proper DNR forms for your medical records and create a DNR bracelet or necklace to wear.
Planning for your future medical care is a process filled with legal nuances. Safe Harbor Estate Law has extensive experience helping Minnesota residents create customized advance directives that clearly express their wishes and are legally binding. Their attorneys can advise you on the best strategies and documents to protect your preferences.
Don’t leave medical decisions for your later years to chance. Partner with an estate planning attorney to help ensure your values and priorities shape the care you receive when you need it most.