Questions & Answers: Advance Directives and End of Life Decisions
Appointing a Healthcare Agent Who can serve as my agent?
Your agent can be almost any adult whom you trust to make healthcare
decisions for you. He or she can be a close family member or a good friend who
is willing to assume the responsibility to make healthcare decisions on your
The important thing when appointing an agent is to make sure he or she
understands your wishes about the use of medical treatment and is willing to
respect them and to be assertive if necessary. Not everyone is comfortable
making these types of decisions, and your agent might have to be persistent to
ensure that your wishes are honored. Therefore, it is essential that you talk
with the person before making the appointment, even if you plan to name your
spouse, your adult child or another family member.
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
Under most state laws, your attending physician cannot treat you and act as
your agent at the same time. In some states your agent cannot be any healthcare
worker caring for you in a medical facility unless the person also is a family
Can I appoint more than one agent?
You should not (and in many states you may not) appoint more than one person
to act as your agent at the same time, because conflicts and confusion can
arise. The result could be that no decision is reached or that court
intervention becomes necessary.
Parents sometimes wish to appoint all of their adult children to act
together as the agent, to avoid "playing favorites." Instead, you could
ask your children to decide among themselves who could be the agent.
Practical considerations such as location often make the answer obvious.
Sometimes one adult child is more willing to take on the role than another.
You can appoint one or more alternate agents. If the first person you named
is unwilling or unable to serve-for example, if he or she is ill then the next
one is called upon to act as your alternate agent, and so on down the list of
people you name as alternates.
Remember, in some states, appointing more than one person at a time can make
the appointment invalid.
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization