When preparing for end-of-life and long-term health care decisions, there are two main tools available: Medical powers of attorney and living wills.
What if you have neither of those at a critical medical moment when you’re suddenly unable to speak for yourself? If neither a power of attorney nor a living will is in place, Washington State has a legal hierarchy that dictates who can make healthcare decisions on your behalf.
9 levels of priority in Washington
According to the Washington State Hospital Association, there are nine tiers of possible decision-makers when a medical power of attorney is not appointed. This is also in the absence of an advance directive that the patient made, which outlines their wishes regarding health care and end-of-life decisions. The hierarchy is as follows:
- Legal guardian, if the patient is a minor
- Spouse or domestic partner of the patient
- Children of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- Parents of the patient
- Siblings of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- Grandchildren of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- Nephews and nieces of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- Uncles and aunts of the patient who are at least 18 years old
- A close friend of the patient who is at least 18 years old (although special stipulations apply to this last category)
Proactively undergoing comprehensive estate planning can help to avoid the decision-making power falling onto someone who may not be prepared to handle the job. When planning for long-term medical and end-of-life decisions, it can be helpful to have professional guidance that is experienced in estate planning in Washington State.