Deciding Who Will Be Your Health Care Agent

Depending on the state, your health care agent could be titled an attorney-in-fact, a health care proxy, or a surrogate. A person's health care agent is usually his or her spouse, partner, family member, or close friend, someone they can have complete confidence in. After all, in order to create a durable power of attorney for health care, you have to get your choice of health care agent right.

Power of Attorney for Health Care: Who qualifies to be a health care agent?

If you should become incapacitated, no longer able to voice your own wishes, then your health care agent steps in and has your authority to choose your medical treatment. Naturally, your agent needs to be someone you trust, someone who will respect your wishes concerning treatment. But beyond this, what do you need in a health care agent?

  • He or she may have to be assertive. After all, if medical professionals or relatives voice opposition to your preferred treatment, you need to have someone who can be a strong voice on your behalf. If you think there could be issues with your medical treatment down the road, assertiveness is a must in an agent.
  • He or she must live nearby. This doesn't have to mean that they live in your city or even state, but consider that if you are incapacitated for months, your agent may need to live near you for that stretch of time, to be there to see that your wishes are followed.
  • He or she should probably be your financial agent. If you are also creating a durable power of attorney for finances, you probably want your health agent to have this authority as well. If you don't think that's best for your situation, then your health agent and financial agent must cooperate well, ensuring that your medical treatment isn't delayed by contrary financial decisions.

You probably can't name a health care provider as your health agent. Plenty of states specifically prohibit you from naming a medical professional as your agent. (Some state laws might let you name a medical professional if they are a relative, or if they are your coworker at a medical center.) But no matter the state, it is often advisable to not select as your agent a medical professional who will provide your treatment.

Other states will have additional rules that limit whom you can choose for a health care agent.

Do you need a health care agent? An alternate health care agent?

It is not always necessary to choose an agent. In fact, if there is no one you think is quite right for the job, then it is best not choose an agent at all. Instead, you can creating a living will, or in other words, a health care declaration, one that medical professionals will have to adhere to. Then you can also talk to your medical providers about your preferred medical treatment.

But if you are creating a power of attorney for health care, then you should carefully choose an alternate agent, just in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the position. It is advisable to not simply choose two health care agents, however, as the dynamic of having two different people with differing opinions in control of your medical choices could create a mess. Instead, you can name an agent, and then an equally qualified alternate agent. In fact, you can name more than one alternate.

To understand more of the legal repercussions of durable powers of attorney, be sure to discuss your unique situation with an estate planning lawyer today.