Under the law, no. In real life, sometimes.
Many people think that they don’t need to sign a Health Care Proxy because they assume that the law permits their spouse to speak for them in medical emergencies. The law actually says quite the opposite. Only you or someone you have named in a Health Care Proxy has the authority to make medical decisions for you.
Real life doesn’t precisely follow the law. If hospital staff get the sense that the family all gets along and don’t think anyone in the family will have an issue with the well-spouse being the decision-maker, they will often turn to the well-spouse to make the decisions. But if hospital staff sense any dissent among the family, they will want to see a Health Care Proxy.
But what if you never signed one? Well, the hospital will tell your family that they need to go to court to have a guardian appointed. That costs a lot of money (your money, by the way), and takes a lot of time and emotional energy.
And even if the family all gets along just fine, there are other reasons hospital staff may ask to see a Health Care Proxy (and if there isn’t one, send your family off to court). For example, if you need antipsychotic medications, like anxiety or depression medications, the staff will ask to see a Health Care Proxy. Another common example arises when hospital staff considers inserting or removing a feeding tube, or using or discontinuing use of a ventilator. As you can see, even if your family gets along, the hospital staff still will need to see a Health Care Proxy (or, you guessed it, send your family off to court for guardianship).
Moral of the story? Put a Health Care Proxy in place now. It doesn’t take much time at all.