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PATIENT ADVOCATE AND FUNERAL REPRESENTATIVE
Patient Advocate Designation
Most people have heard of a living will – a document that expresses your wishes concerning life-sustaining or “heroic” measures. In Michigan, living wills are not legally binding. There is however, a somewhat similar document known as a Patient Advocate Designation, which is legally binding in Michigan. You appoint a person of your choice (called a Patient Advocate) to make medical decisions for you, including termination of life support if you so wish, in the event that you are unable to make the decisions yourself. The power of the Patient Advocate ends if you regain decision-making capacity. Without a Patient Advocate Designation, your loved ones will be forced at the time of a medical crisis to petition the probate court for the appointment of a Guardian (possibly not a person of your choosing) to make these decisions for you. A Patient Advocate Designation is the means to ensure that if you become disabled, your medical decisions, as well as those concerning your care and placement, are made by a person in whom you have complete trust.
When does a Patient Advocate Act?
How to choose your Patient Advocate
- Is your chosen Patient Advocate emotionally able and willing to follow your wishes (i.e. terminating life support)?
- Would your Patient Advocate speak to doctors and make informed decisions?
- Is your Patient Advocate local or able to be available fairly quickly?
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What are the Patient Advocate's Duties?
You can give your Patient Advocate the authority to withdraw or withhold life sustaining procedures if you have a terminal and irreversible condition, as determined by your physician. You can also include that you do or do not want either artificial nutrition or hydration.
You can also give your Patient Advocate permission to donate your organs or other body parts for transplant or research after you die.
What are the Responsibilities of Medical Professionals Regarding Patient Advocate Designations?
Until this Act, Michigan residents were stuck with what was a “next of kin” order of individuals who can make funeral decisions. The antiquated law seemed to ignore the realities of second marriages, estranged children, childless marriages, same-sex couples, etc.
Now, if no Funeral Representative is designated, funeral decisions are made by the next of kin in the following priority:
Your surviving spouse; your children; your grandchildren; your parents; your grandparents; your siblings; descendants of your parents (i.e. nieces and nephews); and descendants of your grandparents (i.e. aunts and uncles).
Anyone can be designated as Funeral Representative if the individual is at least 18 years of age and is not an employee associated with a funeral, cemetery, crematory or health facility providing services, unless that individual is among a class of certain relatives. You may also name a successor if the first named Funeral Representative is unable to act.
It should also be noted that the Act provides that the Funeral Representative is required to guaranty payment for the costs associated with the decision concerning the disposition of your remains. For this reason, we suggest that if you decide to execute a Funeral Representative Designation, you provide for payment of the costs and arrangements made by your Funeral Representative in your Will or Trust, by a prepaid funeral contract or another type of pre-need arrangement, or through a life insurance policy.
We also suggest that you formally state your funeral wishes in writing and attach it to the Funeral Representative Designation.
Finally, you should share this document with your designated Funeral Representative and any successor you name. That way, he or she can get involved as soon as possible after your death, especially if they are not a next of kin.