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 behalf.

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.

Who cannot serve as my agent?

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 member.

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