Estate Planning

FAQs About Powers of Attorney and Directives

Can Life Support Be Withheld If A Patient Has Not Signed A Directive To Physicians?

by Rania Combs

Most Americans have not executed basic estate planning documents. Studies show that more than half of Americans have not executed a basic will. Even fewer have executed durable powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney, and directive to physicians.

So, what happens if someone suffers a catastrophic injury or illness and is on life support? Can anyone make a determination to withhold life support if the patient has not signed a directive to physicians?

In Texas, an agent under a medical power of attorney can decide to withhold life support if the patient has not signed a directive to physicians. If the patient has not signed a medical power of attorney, the following individuals, in order of priority, can decide:

  1. Spouse
  2. Adult children
  3. Parents
  4. Nearest living relatives
  5. A court-appointed guardian

A directive to physicians gives Texans the ability to share under what circumstances they would like life-sustaining treatment to be administered or withheld. Doing so alleviates the emotional burden those making a decision may feel without knowing the patient’s wishes. However, the lack of such a document does not create a presumption that the patient opposes a decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment.

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