How to Legally Prepare Yourself for Surgery

A person who is preparing for a scheduled surgery has a lot of details to consider. The person must comply with his doctor’s pre-surgical protocols, arrange to take time off from work, find caregivers for children or other dependents, and arrange for post surgical care, for example. While the logistics are important and must be worked out, it is also important for the person to make sure that all of his affairs are in order.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of people die in surgery in the United States each year. Approximately 8,000 people die each year from surgical site infections. Other deaths occur due to the use of anesthesia, medical errors and unavoidable medical complications. Accordingly, anyone who goes into surgery must make sure that the following documents are updated and legally enforceable:
·        Will: it is a good idea to have a valid will in place prior to going into surgery.   A will can ensure that your possessions and property interests are passed to the people whom you choose when you die. If you do not have a valid will at the time of your death then the state decides how to distribute your assets which may or may not be the way you would like them to be distributed. Many people who die in surgery do not anticipate their death. They go into surgery trusting that the surgery will extend or improve their lives, not shorten it. However, since some deaths do occur during surgery, it is important to have a will in place just in case.
·        Designation of Guardians: parents of minor children should make sure that they have legally designated a guardian for their children should something happen to them in surgery that makes them unable to care for their children. Guardians may be named in a properly executed will or another legal document that is recognized in the jurisdiction where the parents and children reside.
·        Advanced Health Care Directives: if something goes wrong during surgery it is possible that difficult medical decisions will need to be made and that you will be unable to make them for yourself. It is also possible that you will come out of surgery and not be conscious for a period of time. In those circumstances, medical staff will look to your living will for your directions or to the health care proxy or health care power of attorney whom you have named to act on your behalf in such situations.
No one likes to think about dying during surgery and the odds are that the surgery will help you, not harm you. However, just as the surgery is important to your own health and wellness preparing for an unlikely problem is important to the health and wellness of your family and loved ones. Therefore, as you consult with your doctor and follow the doctor’s recommendations prior to surgery you should also consult with your attorney and follow your attorney’s recommendations so that you are your family are well prepared for all of the possible outcomes.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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