Expect the best, but plan for the worst!
Due to a car accident, an unexpected medical condition or an ongoing health issue, you may become unable to handle all of your affairs yourself and may require some assistance from a loved one, whether it be with your finances or healthcare, or both.
Ideally, you have an Estate Plan in place and your family will be prepared. In the alternative, a family member may have to initiate an Adult Guardianship proceeding to ask for the Court’s permission to make decisions on your behalf. Failing to have a complete Estate Plan in place often leads to chaos, unnecessary expenses and delays, and even unexpected outcomes.
If you do not have an Estate Plan, or if it is time to update your documents, here are a few things to consider in choosing your Medical Agent:
- Emotional fitness for the job. People handle stress differently, and not everyone is able to set aside their emotions and make level-headed decisions when someone they love is suffering. In addition, some people are simply not assertive enough to act as a strong advocate in the face of differing opinions of other family members or even health care providers who suggest a treatment plan you have informed your medical agent you do not want. You should choose someone who is able to think rationally in emotionally difficult circumstances, even if that means you must look outside of your family to find the best person for the job.
- Geographic proximity. The person you choose to act as your medical agent should optimally be someone who lives close by and is able to act on your behalf very quickly in the event of a medical emergency or if you need your advocate to serve in that role for an extended time period.
- Willingness/ability to serve. Acting as a medical agent can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining job. Make sure that the person you choose is willing and able to set aside the time necessary to serve as your patient advocate. Don’t just assume the person you want to be your medical agent is willing: Be proactive and ask if he or she is willing to take on that role. Keep in mind that if you are elderly, you may want to avoid naming a friend or family member who also is older, as there is a greater chance that they will experience mental or physical decline at the same time as you, which could impede their ability to serve as your advocate when the time comes.
- Ability to make decisions in accordance with your wishes. Your medical agent has a duty to make decisions on your behalf that you would have made to the extent that he or she is aware of your wishes. This is the case even if your medical agent disagrees with your choices. As a result, your medical agent needs to be someone who is willing to set aside his or her own opinions and wishes to carry out yours. It may be prudent to appoint someone who has values and religious beliefs that are similar to yours to reduce the instances in which your agent’s opinions differ significantly from yours. Do not choose anyone that you do not trust to carry out your wishes.