If you are over 18, choosing a health care agent is one of the most important things you can to do to make sure someone has permission to act on your behalf in a medical emergency.
If you’re not familiar with the role of a health care agent, this is essentially the person who will carry out your wishes regarding things like life-support, resuscitation and feeding tubes if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. Your health care agent will also handle the day-to-day decision making regarding your medical care including (but not limited to):
– Medication administration
– Blood and blood products
– Diagnostic tests
– Long-term care (i.e. nursing home assistance, home health care)
– Hiring and firing medical personal
– Determining who can (and cannot) visit you during your hospital stay
– Getting court authorization to obtain or withhold treatment if your wishes are not honored by a doctor or other healthcare professionals
However, as an Orange County estate planning attorney, I can tell you that while choosing a health care agent may seem like an easy task, the process is actually much harder and complex when you start working to narrow down candidates.
Remember, your health care agent could be called on to make some of the most difficult and heart wrenching decisions they’ve ever faced. The job could also turn out to be timely and demanding if you are seriously hurt and require decisions to be made on a round-the-clock basis.
Not to mention, situations such as these can get very emotional. Your health care agent may be called on to carry out requests you’ve made, but they don’t personally agree with. They may also feel pressured by family members to make decisions contrary to what they know you would want under the circumstances.
For these reasons, it’s very important that you take your time in choosing a health care agent so you wind up with someone truly qualified for the job. If you’re feeling stuck and still not sure who to pick, here are the top three qualifications I ask my Orange County estate planning clients to consider when narrowing down their options:
1. Location– In a true medical emergency, your health care agent may be called upon to make round-the-clock decisions until you are stable. If that occurs, you’ll want someone who lives close enough to meet with doctors and visit the hospital whenever necessary. For this same reason, you might also want to exclude someone who travels on business a lot or has such a demanding schedule that it would forbid them from attending to your care.
2. Medical Knowledge– While your healthcare agent certainly doesn’t have to be an expert in medicine, you do want to choose someone who is capable of understanding your medical condition and the choices presented to him or her by the doctors overseeing your care. That may also require you to weed out candidates who are overly squeamish or emotional about medical subjects to ensure the best decisions are made on your behalf.
3. Loyalty– The person you choose as health care agent should feel a sense of loyalty to you and your wishes to ensure your preferences are fully carried out in the face of emotional stress, personal disagreement or pressure from other family members to make decisions contrary to those you have specified.
As a final thought, you’ll also want to choose someone whom you feel totally comfortable sharing your medical preferences with. Your healthcare directive can only cover so many situations that could arise; therefore, it’s critical you give your agent as much direction as possible in case they are presented with a decision not addressed in your legal documents.