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How to Choose your Health Care Agent

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A health care (medical) power of attorney may be one of the most important legal documents you will ever sign.

You never know when you might suddenly need someone to make medical decisions for you. Every year in the United States about 735,000 people have a heart attack, and nearly 800,000 people will have a stroke. You have to prepare in advance for this kind of emergency health crisis. By signing a health care power of attorney, you help ensure that the right person will be making decisions for you and that you will receive the best and most appropriate health care possible – care that is consistent with your personal values and wishes.

This vital legal document allows you to name a person of your own choosing to assist you with health care and personal care decisions. It also gives you an opportunity to outline your philosophy as to the types of treatment you want to receive or decline including end of life care.

The trusted person named in your health care power of attorney is called your agent. In the event you cannot communicate, your agent will step into your shoes and make heath care decisions based on what he or she understands to be what you would want. For example, consenting to a surgery or choosing a hospital or other care facility.

Obviously, your choice of who will serve as your agent is of critical importance. Here are some tips on how to go about choosing your agent.

Choice of Agent

You should try to choose someone who understands your values and wishes and who will forcefully pursue them despite opposition. Consider the following criteria:

(1) Availability.

(2) Reliability.

(3) Willingness to serve.

(4) Advocacy skills.

(5) Ability to understand medical issues.

(6) Understanding of and respect for your values and willingness to pursue them.

Many people initially consider appointing two or more persons to serve as co-agents. But most commentators feel that this should be discouraged. In most cases only one “ultimate” authority should be named. But you can ask that your agent consult with others during decision-making processes when possible. You can even include that requirement in your document. And you can and should appoint other loved ones as alternates (successor agents) in case your primary choice of agent is unavailable.

The best choice of agent will know you well and be willing to talk with you about  sensitive issues including discussions about end of life care. The ideal agent will be comfortable with the responsibility, able to deal with any potential family conflicts, and be a strong advocate for you.

Be sure to name a successor agent, in the event your first choice is unavailable to serve. And don’t put this off. Talk with an elder law attorney soon. Have a health care power of attorney in place before a sudden health crisis strikes.