Protecting Your Health Care Choices: Importance of Health Care Planning for Unmarried Couples
By Cynthia Jackson, Esq.
Picture this. You are in a long term, monogamous relationship in which you are totally committed to your partner, but you are not legally married in Florida. You and your partner are in a terrible automobile accident. Your partner is unconscious and unable to make medical decisions. You, as his partner, feel that you know intimately what he would want and the decisions he would make. You are stunned when the hospital will not even let you in his room and the doctor will give you little information on his condition, much less allow you to make medical decisions for him. The hospital calls his sister, to whom your partner has barely spoken in 15 years, to direct his health care. You are left at home alone, worried about your partner, unable to represent his point of view.
This may sound unduly melodramatic. Rest assured, however, that as an unmarried life partner, it is very realistic. Without proper documentation, you have no legal rights whatsoever to direct your partner’s health care if he should become unable to do so himself.
The sad part of this scenario is that it is so easily and inexpensively prevented. Florida Statutes Sections 765.201-205 allow an individual to appoint a surrogate to make health care decisions for him if he is unable to make them for himself. A health care surrogate designation is a simple document in which one competent adult appoints another as his surrogate to make health care decisions if he is unable to make them himself. The document should be properly witnessed and should be made a part of your permanent medical file. It will allow your partner not only to make decisions for your health care, but also to consult with all of your care providers so that your partner can make informed decisions. It allows your partner access to your medical records, authority to apply for benefits on your behalf and the ability to check you into or out of a facility.
Take steps to make sure that if such a situation happens, your life partner is in a position to direct your health care.