By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
February 2nd, 2016
Who Are the Parties to a Health Care Surrogate?
We all fear that time at the end of our lives where we can no longer make our own healthcare decisions. There’s also the possibility that something sudden happens when we’re still younger and more vibrant that leaves us incapacitated and unable to decide on medical issues. Luckily, we can plan ahead for such a situation and designate someone to make those hard decisions for us in the unfortunate event that we become incapable.
Health care advance directives are written documents that clearly state the type of medical care you want or don’t want to receive and who will be able to make those decisions for you. Some people write an advance directive after they’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening or terminal illness. While other people want to make these plans as part of their estate planning when they are healthy.
A living will and a health care surrogate designation are two different types of advance care directives. A living will is a document detailing if you would like to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging measures if you have a terminal condition. A health care surrogate designation allows you to name another person as your representative to make health care and medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. You can choose to complete a living will, a health care surrogate designation, or both. We typically advise both.
If you decide to name someone to be your health care surrogate, you will first have to choose a responsible, dependable, and trusted person to be your surrogate and representative. A health care surrogate will have a lot of responsibility, so make sure you think carefully about who you choose. In addition to making all health care decisions on your behalf, your health care surrogate can also:
- Consult with your health care providers
- Receive any necessary health information
- Apply for health care benefits that may help with medical costs
- Provide informed consent, refusal of consent, or withdrawal of consent for health care matters
If you have specific wishes regarding your health care decisions, you should make sure they are known by your health care surrogate so that he or she can see that those wishes are met and act in your best interest when deciding on your medical care and treatment. You can also make the document as broad or as limited as you are comfortable with doing.
Once you know who your surrogate will be, you need to create a written document, and it has to be signed in the presence of two witnesses. One of the witnesses cannot be your spouse or a blood relative. Additionally, the surrogate you choose cannot act as a witness to signing the document. In the event that your surrogate is unable, unwilling, or unavailable to perform his or her duties, you can also designate an alternate surrogate as a backup.
Your witnesses aren’t the only people who should be party to your health care surrogate decision, though.
Who Should Know about Your Health Care Surrogate
After you have designated a health care surrogate, you will want to inform your health care providers, family, medical professionals, and any other significant people both that you have a health care surrogate and the identity of your surrogates. You may even want to provide them with a copy of the document to ensure that it will be followed.
You can also alter or revoke your health care surrogate designation if you see fit. If you alter or revoke your health care surrogate, make sure the necessary people have the latest version and have formal notice that that the document has been revoked.
You should consult with an attorney to complete everything properly. An experienced estate planning attorney can also make sure you’ve covered all your bases and help you draft any other documents that fit your unique estate planning needs.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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