A Health Care Surrogate is someone appointed to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. You can establish a health care surrogate through a legal document that names another person as your representative and includes medical care or treatment instructions.
Why Should I Designate a Health Care Surrogate?
Suppose there is an emergency medical decision that needs to be made. However, your family members disagree about how the doctor should proceed, or they may not be comfortable making these types of decisions. Their disagreement or indecision could delay critical care. And it places a hefty burden on your family and doctor. It also means your true wishes may not be carried out.
Appointing a health care surrogate can help ensure these types of situations do not happen. The designated person will know the medical care or treatment you want or do not want and will be empowered to make those choices.
How Do I Appoint a Health Care Surrogate?
Designating a health care surrogate is not a decision to be taken lightly. For example, the decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment can be extremely difficult. Your surrogate must have the willpower and fortitude to follow through with your wishes, even against the objections of family members. And you must feel confident that they will follow your written instructions.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a health care surrogate:
- Location: the designated person should be able to quickly arrive at the hospital or be easily accessible to manage time-critical health care decisions in an emergency
- Trustworthiness: the designated person should be someone you trust and who can be trusted by medical professionals to carry out your wishes
- Physical and mental ability: the designated person should have the physical and mental stamina to care for you in a crisis and over the long term
- Tenacity: the designated person should be persistent, able to advocate for you to medical providers, and be unwavering in their desire to help you
- Willingness: the designated person should be ready to take on their role as your health care decision-maker at any time
What Can a Health Care Surrogate Do?
The designation document gives your health care surrogate the authority to talk to your doctors, manage your medical care and make medical decisions for you.
As soon as you’ve legally made the designation, the health care surrogate can immediately be activated if you become incapacitated. In Florida, incapacity means that the patient cannot physically or mentally communicate a willful and knowing health care decision.
But you can also create a designation that gives your health care surrogate authority to act even if you are not incapacitated. For example, you might do so if you develop a chronic illness or undergo surgery with a long recovery time. While you may have the mental capacity to decide the best course of treatment, you may not have the energy to manage your medical care or treatment. You might also activate the health surrogate if you are under the influence of medications that make it difficult to talk to your doctor or remember the conversation.
Other Types of Advance Directives
A health care surrogate is just one type of Advance Directive. Other Advance Directives include a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney.
A Living Will lets you state your wishes about health care if you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end-stage condition, or develop a terminal illness much like a health care surrogate. But it can also give instructions about other affairs, such as financial decisions (i.e., paying bills, applying for benefits, selling stock or cryptocurrency).
A durable power of attorney is a form of Advance Directive recognized by Florida that lets you express your decisions about health care if you are in a persistent vegetative state, have an end-stage condition, or develop a terminal illness. Unlike, a health care surrogate, it can also give directives for how the person you designate should handle your estate after your death.
Depending on your individual needs, you may wish to include any one or a combination of the different types of Advance Directives in your end-of-life and estate planning.
Can I Change my Health Care Surrogate?
Yes, you change your health care surrogate at any time by creating a new designation document or creating a document the revokes a designation. If you designated a health care surrogate before 2015, you should consider updating it. Florida’s healthcare surrogate law changed dramatically that year. As a result, your document may not meet current standards.
If you have any questions about health care surrogates, Advance Directives, or are ready to create an estate plan, call our experienced estate planning lawyers at Mortellaro Law today: 813-367-1500.
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