Michigan law currently permits any resident to designate a "patient advocate" during his or her lifetime. The patient advocate is tasked with making health care decisions – often including the ability to withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatment – up until the moment of the principal's death. Once that individual has died, however, the patient advocate's authority to act on the individual's behalf, including to make decisions for funeral and burial arrangements, ceases.
A person residing in Michigan may set forth funeral and burial instructions in his or her will, or name a person who will make those decisions. Despite that ability, state law allows a family member to trump those designated decision-makers or the specified directions. However, that fact may change. House Bill 5162, which has been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives, but is currently in Committee, would grant an individual the ability to name a non-relative designee to make final funeral and burial arrangements without concern that a family member might trump those decisions. This can be important in situations where an elderly individual has no close family relations upon whom he or she can rely or in a long-term relationship but in which the couple is not married.
Whether this bill will progress through the legislature remains to be seen, as this is not the first time similar legislation has been discussed. However, for those individuals who rely on non-family members to make their important decisions for health care, it will be important to monitor the status of this proposed legislation.