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What to Think About When Choosing Someone to Make Health Care Decisions When You Cannot

A life-threatening accident or disabling illness are difficult things to consider.  Especially if that accident or illness means you are no longer able to make your own health care decisions.  If you can’t make health care decisions for yourself, who will make those decisions for you?  To make sure you get to choose that person, and not the state or a court, you need a health care power of attorney.  This important legal document appoints the person, also known as an agent, who will make health care decisions for you if you cannot.   To learn more about health care and financial powers of attorney, click  here.

My sons are pictured here because I’ve chosen my two oldest, who are young adults, to make health care decisions for me if I cannot.  I will add my youngest when he is no longer a minor.  But I thought about this decision for a long time and discussed the responsibility with them as well.  It was not an easy decision – not because I don’t believe they will do the right thing – but because making health care decisions for someone else can be a heavy burden.

As I was working through this myself, I thought it might be helpful to share some things I think everyone should think about when choosing someone to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Will they follow your wishes? 

This may be a harder question to answer then you realize.  The first question to answer is what are your wishes?  If you are terminally ill or near death, what are your wishes regarding the health care you receive.  Do you want your health care providers to take all measures possible to keep you alive for as long as possible or do you prefer to be let go peacefully?  The document that answers this question is known as a Living Will or Advance Directive and specifies wishes regarding treatment a person does or does not want to receive if they are terminally ill or near death and there is little likelihood of recovery.  For more information on health care related documents, click here.

You want to make sure the person you appoint can make hard decisions based on your wishes, not their own.  Sometimes the right person is not the person closest to you.  For example, if you don’t think a spouse or adult child would be willing to let you go in the manner you want, they may not be the person to appoint.  Similarly, if you think someone may let you go too soon, you don’t want to appoint that person either.

Will they be a strong advocate for you?

This is important.  Will they be able to advocate for your personal choices if faced with a health care professional or family member who disagrees?  They don’t need to be a health care professional themselves, but they need to have a strong enough personality to stand up to someone else.

On a related note, can they handle the burden of making very difficult decisions? And, are you willing to place that burden on their shoulders? Health care decisions may not be easy, nor will they necessarily be black and white.

Can they be available in an emergency?

You never know when a medical emergency may occur.  Can the person you appointed be there when you need them?  It can be helpful to have someone that lives nearby be your health care agent.  That said, today people can travel to places quickly when they must.  Additionally, although never ideal, decisions can be made remotely if necessary.  It is also important to appoint at least one back-up person so someone else can step in if your first choice is not available.

Have you discussed this with the person you’ve chosen?

One last note, once you think you have decided who you want to serve as your health care agent, don’t forget to discuss your wishes and ask them if they’re willing to serve.  Your loved ones may be honored that you trust them with this responsibility, but they may not be comfortable with it.  Or they may not agree with the decisions you want made.  Discussing your wishes with your health care agent is critical, so if they need to make decisions for you, they know what you would want.

As a side note, although we recommend that you consult with a lawyer regarding your family’s specific needs and to ensure your documents will work, there are health care forms online.  In the case of a health care power of attorney, having something in place is definitely better than having nothing in place.  Click here for a link to the Missouri Bar’s pdf fillable health care power of attorney and advance medical directive.

Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 for assistance preparing your estate plan and choosing someone to make health care decisions for you or to prepare a health care power of attorney and advance directive.

** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

Written on 10/22/2022 by Stephanie Copp Martinez, JD.

 

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