A health care power of attorney is a document that gives specific privileges to an agent for the purpose of making health care decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated or unconscious and are unable to make your own health care decisions. Who you appoint to be that agent, however, can be a difficult choice. Your agent should ideally be someone who knows you well, has an ability to make sound judgments, and knows what decisions you would want to be made in certain situations.
But which agents should you avoid? And what about alternate agents?
Avoiding Those Who Work in Health Care
You may initially think someone who works in health care would be the best choice as an agent. However, it may not really be a good idea, depending on how trusting you are with your doctor or other health care professional. In fact, many states, including Ohio, prohibit naming your health care provider as your agent altogether. This is out of concern that your doctor might have a bias towards what they feel is best rather than providing you with the care that you actually want.
Others to Avoid
The same situations apply to those working for the government or someone appointed by a court to handle your estate. Most state laws will prevent you from naming these people as your agent with the thought that they aren’t qualified to make any sound decision on your health.
Characteristics in the Perfect Agent
The main characteristic you should look at when choosing an agent is trust. You should pick someone that you know will make the health care decisions that are best for you and in your best interests. For example, if it is against your religion to receive a certain operation or medication, you must trust that your agent will relay this information to relevant medical personnel while you are incompetent. Make sure that your agent agrees with your health care wishes when the time comes. Otherwise, your agent could make uninformed assumptions as to what kind of care you actually want.
Choosing Alternate Agents
Your Health Care Power of Attorney should always include alternate agents in case your primary agent becomes unable or unwilling to perform his/her duties. It is preferable to pick at least two alternates to prepare for the unexpected. The same qualities you looked for in your primary agent should be sought for your alternates, no matter how challenging that might be. It is also sometimes a good idea to make multiple parties your primary or alternate agents. For example, if you have 3 children, you may not want to put the burden of making health care decisions on only one child. By appointing all 3 children as your agents, it would require 2/3 children to approve difficult health care decisions. That way, one child does not have as much grief or doubt that he/she is making the best decision.
To prevent potential stress and turmoil on your family if you become unconscious or incompetent, it is imperative that your estate plan provides a Health Care Power of Attorney. Choosing the right agent(s) for this document can be challenging, so consulting an estate planning attorney to help you with this decision can give you some peace of mind.
Bill Hesch is a CPA, PFS (Personal Financial Specialist), and an attorney licensed in Ohio and Kentucky who helps clients with their financial and estate planning. He also practices elder law planning, corporate law, Medicaid planning, tax law, and probate in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas. His practice area includes Hamilton County, Butler County, Warren County, and Clermont County in Ohio, and Campbell County, Kenton County, and Boone County in Kentucky. Contact Bill to review your estate plan and see if your Health Care Power of Attorney agent(s) are the right fit for you.