A Recent Case of Guardianship and Critical Medical Decisions

When a Texan man in his early 40s collapsed in his home, a guardianship battle ensued between his parents and his estranged wife.

The man apparently had not granted medical power of attorney to anyone, and decisions about life support were left by default to his wife.

His wife filed a ‘do not resuscitate’ order with the hospital. His parents, in their attempt to keep him on life support, filed an emergency application for guardianship. A judge awarded them temporary guardianship for 60 days. In addition to overseeing his medical decisions, his parents also received charge of his financial affairs; certain items that were removed from his home were returned to his parents by judge’s orders.

The man at the center of this guardianship struggle has unfortunately since passed away; as he lay ill, no one could ask him what he wanted done on his behalf. The events surrounding his medical catastrophe continue to raise important estate planning issues.

His circumstances underscore the need to prepare critical estate planning documents regardless of age; even if you aren’t elderly, you need to consider medical powers of attorney in the event that you suffer an incapacitating health catastrophe. Who would you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf? How about financial decisions? And what are your wishes regarding life support? All of these need to be considered carefully and addressed in specific detail.

You also need to make sure to update your estate planning documents to reflect major life changes. The man in this case had been estranged from his wife, and they were undergoing a divorce when he suffered the collapse of his health. Whatever estate documents he might have written up may not have reflected his current wishes.

In the absence of thorough estate planning, such medical catastrophes can lead to battles of guardianship between conflicting parties, adding to the stress of an already excruciating situation. Be sure to contact a reputable estate planning attorney to review these issues and make decisions that will be the most beneficial for you and for your loved ones.