Who makes decisions about anatomical gifts in New York?

Published By | Mar 3, 2023 | Estate Administration |

When someone dies, what they choose to do with their personal property will be a major part of their long-term legacy. The individuals and charitable causes that benefit from their estate will likely long remember someone’s final acts of financial generosity.

What happens with someone’s physical body can also be an important part of their legacy. Although many people leave burial and memorial ceremony instructions, some people want to leave anatomical gifts when they die as well.

Perhaps they have an unusual medical condition that prompts them to leave their body for research purposes. Maybe they want to leave organs and tissue for the benefit of others with medical needs. Who makes the determination about anatomical gifts at the end of someone’s life in New York?

The individual in question

Typically, the best-case scenario for someone’s wishes regarding an anatomical gift will involve them leaving explicit written directions regarding their wishes. Those who provide guidance for their loved ones and have documents already in place when they passed have the security of knowing that there won’t be any conflicts about their wishes.

A medical agent

Sometimes, an estate plan will include powers of attorney and healthcare directives that give people trusted by an individual the authority to handle certain medical matters. A healthcare agent can typically make choices on behalf of someone in their last days that align with the instructions they provided or the values they exemplified through life.

The family of the individual

New York does allow for immediate family members, including children and grandchildren, to make determinations about anatomical gifts when there is no medical agent to speak on someone’s behalf and the individual failed to provide written instructions.

If there is not full agreement among family members, then a majority of the surviving children and grandchildren could make the decision to allow or refuse an anatomical gift on behalf of the individual involved.

For most families, the best approach to this emotional topic is to have individuals address anatomical gifts and other healthcare wishes in writing long before experiencing some kind of medical emergency. Otherwise, the need to decide can create a lot of personal pressure and can lead to family conflict. Drafting thorough estate planning documents is an important step for those who wish to leave a specific legacy, possibly including some kind of anatomical gift.