When you consider estate planning, you may only think about what happens after you die. But what if you were to become incapacitated due to an injury or illness?
There are a number of legal protections you can establish, should you ever find yourself physically or mentally unable to make decisions for yourself. One of them is designating a healthcare surrogate.
Responsibilities of a Healthcare Surrogate
A healthcare surrogate – also referred to as a healthcare proxy or agent – is a person chosen by you who can make healthcare decisions on your behalf. This individual is usually chosen in tandem with a living will, but it can also be a designation created on its own.
A living will is a document outlining your wishes regarding end-of-life care or medical care in times of crisis. For example, your living will may outline your values regarding life support if you’re in a coma, pain management if you’re in hospice care, or organ donation after your death. Both healthcare surrogate designations and living wills are known as advance care directives.
In addition to making medical decisions, your healthcare surrogate has the responsibility of communicating with healthcare staff on your behalf. They will be granted access to your medical records, and may be granted access to financial information as well – for example, if they are tasked with applying for benefits like Medicare and Medicaid.
Choosing a Healthcare Surrogate
A healthcare surrogate will be responsible for making intimate and possibly life-or-death decisions for you, so it’s important to choose someone you fully trust. For many individuals, this is a close family member or friend. When choosing a healthcare surrogate, here are some questions to consider:
- Do you feel comfortable talking to them about your medical history?
- Are they able to be nearby for extended periods of time, if needed?
- Will they be able to confidently advocate for you with your healthcare team?
- Can they manage difficult conversations with your loved ones?
Although many consider a living will and healthcare surrogate designation something to be managed in the twilight years, in Florida, any competent individual over 18 can create these documents. Healthcare surrogates can be chosen for minors by their natural or legal guardian.
While these conversations can be difficult, they can help ensure you receive the care you need when you need it the most. Health crises, tragic accidents, and death can occur at any age.
Creating Your Healthcare Surrogate Document
Information on healthcare surrogates can be found in sections 765.201-765.205 of the Florida statutes. The document designating your healthcare surrogate must be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses. Your chosen surrogate cannot serve as a witness, and at least one of the witnesses must be someone other than your spouse or a blood relative. It’s also wise to designate an alternate surrogate, should your initial choice be unable to fulfill their duties.
Prior to designating your healthcare surrogate or writing your living will, you may wish to speak with your doctor regarding any questions and concerns. Information on surgical procedures, prolonged hospitalization, life support, or hospice care can be highly complex. Your doctor will be able to provide information on medical procedures and treatments, to help you make informed decisions.
Choosing a healthcare surrogate is critically important. From advance care directives to trusts, our team will guide you through the creation of these essential documents.