Part of putting in place an effective estate plan is appointing trusted friends or loved ones to act on your behalf in case you become disabled during your lifetime. This is called incapacity planning, and it involves making use of several different documents to cover your financial and personal needs.
One of the documents you’ll put in place as part of your incapacity plan is an Advance Medical Directive, with which you’ll name a healthcare agent to make medical decisions for you if necessary. Once you’ve named a healthcare agent, this person will have the authority to communicate with your doctors and to make broad-ranging and sometimes difficult decisions on your behalf if for any reason you can’t make medical decisions for yourself.
It goes without saying that the person you appoint as your healthcare agent should be someone you trust a great deal. What other qualities are important for someone serving in this capacity?
- Agreement with Your Treatment Preferences. Your healthcare agent will be your voice if you’re ever disabled or in a situation where you can’t communicate with your doctors. So, it’s important that your agent be in agreement with the treatment preferences you’ve expressed, and that he or she be willing to carry out your wishes for you. If your agent has trouble with your wish to not be resuscitated, for example, then you’ll likely want to find someone who is more comfortable with doing things your way.
- Ability to Advocate for You. Hopefully, your healthcare agent will be able to act on your behalf and not meet with any resistance. However, on occasion, medical staff or even family members might disagree with the wishes you’ve expressed for yourself. In this situation, you’ll want an agent who will stand firm and act as your advocate in the face of resistance.
- Proximity and Availability. Does your agent live nearby? You’ll want to choose someone who lives close enough to you to be able to step in on short notice and begin acting on your behalf. An agent who lives too far away to quickly get to the hospital in case of an emergency is likely not the best choice. The same holds true of someone who is difficult to get in touch with or who is extremely busy. You’ll want to select an agent who is easy to reach and who will be able to drop everything in case of an emergency.
- Willingness to Serve. Acting as a healthcare agent is a weighty responsibility, and it’s not a job that everyone is willing or able to take on. Before you finalize your Advance Directive, you’ll want to talk to your prospective healthcare agent and make sure that he or she has the ability and the desire to take on the task.