Health Care Surrogates

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What’s the difference between Living Wills and Health Care Surrogates? The living will, you may recall, is the document detailing your end-of-life instructions after your attending physician and one other certifies that life prolonging procedures are only artificially delaying the process of dying. Nothing can be done at that point to save you.

The Designation of Health Care Surrogate, in contrast, names someone to make health care decisions for you if you can’t do so yourself. It can encompass your personal care, residential placement and medical treatment.

Many health care surrogate forms are rather short however they delve into a variety of other situations, including:

  • Long term or hospice care situations;
  • Whether to maintain you in your residence during a prolonged illness;
  • Grant your surrogate access to your medical records;
  • When and how to employ health care personnel;
  • Directions regarding pain relief;
  • Consent to psychiatric treatment; and
  • Coordination with your living will.

These are all details that you should discuss with whomever you name in this important role. For married couples, this is usually the spouse. If, however, your spouse suffers from an impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s vitally important that you sign a new health care surrogate and living will putting someone else in the primary position of authority.

Each state, Florida included, has a different designation of health care surrogate law. If you are a resident of Florida and haven’t yet updated your document to Florida law, you should do so. Even if you have a summer residence somewhere else, if you are a Florida resident you should have a Florida compliant document. Your Florida document is valid in all fifty states because you are a Florida resident.

I also suggest a serious discussion with your loved ones about your wishes in a variety of situations. Americans tend to shy away from conversations regarding our health or end-of-life decisions. You don’t want to leave your loved ones guessing as to what your intent may be. That’s what led to the Terri Schiavo situation, where she laid comatose in a hospital bed from 1990 to her death in 2005.

Some of my clients decide to name all their adult children in the role of health care surrogate. This can become a problem if the hospital won’t act without all their consents. An unavailable party can become a big problem. Also, when you require a unanimous consent, one party holds incredible veto power.

Beyond end-of-life decisions, there are situations that can last years, such as the tortuous decline from diseases like ALS or Alzheimer’s. In such cases, it’s important for your loved ones to know how you want to be cared for once you are no longer able to voice direction. Your surrogate should also be familiar with your finances, budgets and long term care insurance policies.

Finally, don’t wait until a crisis arises to update your estate plan. During the coronavirus epidemic we’ve fielded many calls, with some clients requesting drastic changes. When this happens in masse it puts a strain on any office, especially when many work remotely. Further, radical changes made during a crisis might call into question the mental acuity of the party making those changes, or whether he was unduly influenced.

 If you haven’t updated yours, please feel free to click below or contact us to receive more information. Clients of my firm should look to our client portal for their own updated documents.

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