This is the third installment in our blog series on Choosing the Right Fiduciary, discussing how to select the best agents under a health care power of attorney.
The people you name to act as your agent under a health care power of attorney are responsible for making your medical decisions if you are incapacitated and unable to do so for yourself. In the absence of a health care power of attorney, Virginia law identifies the people who are authorized to make those choices; however, clients generally prefer to be more specific about who will manage their health care and treatment.
It can be helpful to name a friend or family member with a medical background. Clients with a nurse or doctor in the family often name that person as their health care agent because he or she will have a better understanding of the client’s condition and the decisions that should be made. Your health care agent should also be familiar with your personal values – for example, knowing your end of life wishes and whether your religious beliefs would affect your treatment plan.
Personality can be a major factor as well. Look for someone who stays calm in emergencies, is able to make quick decisions, and can communicate those decisions clearly to the rest of your loved ones. Situations where you are abruptly incapacitated because of a medical problem can be very high stress for the people who care about you. Another factor to consider is that a person’s incapacity may not be temporary, or short-lived. Health care agents can become overwhelmed when they become responsible for the long-term care of someone who is incapacitated, so it can be a good idea to choose someone who is conveniently located and has a flexible lifestyle. Complex family dynamics can add to that stress for the person you have entrusted with this responsibility. Naming a strong decision-maker whose choices will be trusted by others can help minimize disagreements surrounding your medical care.
Another way to reduce conflict about your health care is to include an advance directive (sometimes called a “living will”) with your health care power of attorney. This is your declaration to your doctor that you wish to be removed from artificial life support if your doctor has determined you are terminally ill or in a persistent coma and unlikely to recover. This can be a powerful tool to effectuate your wishes and to release your loved ones from the burden of making that final decision.
Keep in mind that you can name anyone to act as your health care agent, whether that is a family member, a friend, or a trusted employee or neighbor. We can help you identify your options, but ultimately you are in the best position to determine who should be named to act in this capacity.