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How to choose your health care agent

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Estate Planning

Some of the most consequential decisions you’ll make as you develop your estate plan involve choosing the people who will have authority to manage your affairs, both after your death and if you become seriously ill or injured and unable to speak or make decisions for yourself. One of these people is a health care agent (sometimes called a surrogate).

This is the person to whom you give power of attorney (POA) to discuss your treatment with your medical team and make decisions on your behalf regarding your care and end-of-life treatment. It’s important to put an advance directive for health care in place that includes your wishes for end-of-life care and more.

Your agent has an obligation to advocate for your wishes. That’s why it’s crucial to review your directive with your chosen agent to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with their own beliefs – particularly when it comes to ending life-prolonging measures. If you designate an alternate (and you should), the same goes for them.

What qualities should your health care agent have?

Most people choose their spouse, oldest adult child or parent for this role. However, what if you don’t have a spouse and don’t think another member of your family would be the best person for the responsibility? Your agent doesn’t have to be related to you. They only need to be an adult.

You want to choose someone who:

  • Can make decisions quickly and calmly under pressure
  • Can be relied on to be available (preferably in person) when needed
  • Will stay strong in advocating for your wishes if challenged by relatives or others
  • Can think quickly and process information in what may be frantic circumstances

You can choose two or more people if you can’t narrow it down to one, but that’s likely to invite conflict. It’s typically best to choose one person to make the final decisions, even if they get input from others.

If you don’t choose a health care agent, hospitals will typically look to the closest available relative – who may or may not be the person you’d have chosen. If you at least have an advance directive in place, they’ll have some guidance on your wishes. It’s always best to choose your agent when you develop your directive.

There’s a lot more to know about advanced health care directives and agents. That’s one reason why professional estate planning guidance is so valuable.