A Health Care Agent, also sometimes called a Health Care Proxy, is the person you select to speak for you in a medical crisis, in case you are not able to speak for yourself.
Under Washington State’s default statute for those who do not makes their own plan, spouses or registered domestic partners are given priority in decision making, followed by adult children. However, the ultimate decision maker is the patient’s guardian, if one exists, and family disputes can erupt and health care decisions be delayed if family members or friends attempt to be named guardian when there is a lack of consensus about care.
For those who are single and have either multiple children or no children the need to make it clear who has decision making authority is even more important. In any case, medical crisis decision making usually goes best when the hospital is clear about who the decision maker is and are confident that disputes about who is in charge are not part of the equation.
In naming a health care agent, it is usually easiest to name one person or agent to serve at a time, with at least one successor, or back-up person, in case the first person is not available when needed. However there may be good reasons for selecting more than one person to serve at a time as well, such as a desire to include all of your children.
If you do chose more than one person you will need to include how you want decisions to be made (i.e.. all must agree v. majority rule.) It is also possible to include a request that your primary agent consults with others, be it family members or a close friend with greater medical knowledge, while still leaving only one final decision maker. It may also be possible to name someone you trust who lives near you to serve as a temporary agent until your first choice agent is able to come to the treatment facility if the person you must trust to make ultimate decisions lives far away. An Attorney familiar with disability planning can help you to think through the pros and cons various arrangements and think creatively about solutions to potential problems that might arise.
The following are come important questions to ask when weighting possible agents. Keep in mind that the importance of some of these factors may depend on whether your top priority is having your wishes honored or having your family feel best about the process.
1. Does your agent meet the legal criteria for acting as agent or proxy or representative? (In Washington State, that includes a requirement that the person be at least 18 and not be your doctor or otherwise employed by your health care provider unless they are an immediate family member.)
2. Would your agent be willing to speak on your behalf?
3. Would your agent be able to act on your wishes and separate his/her own feelings from yours?
4. Does your agent lives close by or could they travel to be at your side if needed?
5. Does your agent know you well and understands what’s important to you?
6. Could your agent handle the responsibility?
7. Will your agent talk with you now about sensitive issues and will listen to your wishes?
8. Will your agent likely be available long into the future?
9. Would your agent be able to sensitively handle conflicting opinions between family members and friends?
10. Can your agent be a strong advocate in the face of an unresponsive doctor or institution?
The decision of who you select as your Health Care Agent should be document in a valid Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care which will be discussed in later posts.
If you would like help selecting your Health Care Agent or crafting a Durable Power of Attorney, please call or email now for a free half hour consultation to see if our services are right for you. Tel. 206.459.1908 or firstname.lastname@example.org or attend one of our free classes.