Among the most important decisions you’ll make as you develop your estate plan are the people who will be your representatives and administrators not only after you’re gone but if you become incapacitated by illness and injury and unable to speak for yourself. Perhaps the most important could be your health care agent.
Your health care agent will be responsible for seeing that the wishes you’ve detailed in your Virginia Advance Directive for Health Care are carried out by your medical team if you’re seriously injured or ill. This form allows you to designate things like the conditions under which you want life-prolonging treatments to continue or end. Your agent has the authority to get information from your medical team they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to share.
Most people choose a family member like a spouse or adult child. Others choose a close friend. You can choose anyone you like, as long as they’re at least 18. It’s also wise to choose a backup agent in case your chosen agent can’t fulfill the responsibilities for any reason.
What should you look for in an agent?
As with your choice for an executor, trustee or someone with financial power of attorney (POA), you don’t want to appoint someone without first discussing it with them and making sure they are able and willing to take on the responsibility.
The person you ask to be your health care agent should be someone:
- You trust to be there when needed
- Who shares your religious and moral values or at least respects them
- Who is comfortable with the stipulations you’ve made in your Advance Directive for Health Care – including ending care at the point when you’ve designated
- Who can ask the relevant questions of your medical providers and understand the answers
- Who can function well in stressful situations
- Who can stand up to family members or others who may not agree with your designated wishes
It’s no fun to think when you would prefer to have life-prolonging care. However, it can be a very enlightening process because it makes you consider what to you makes life worth living. By having experienced legal guidance as you do this, you can create a directive and name a health care agent appropriate for you.