Under most states' laws your agent is expected to make decisions based on
specific knowledge of your wishes. If your agent does not know what you would
want in a particular situation, he or she should try to infer your wishes based
on their knowledge of you as a person and on your values related to quality of
life in general. If your agent lacks this knowledge, decisions must be in your
best interest. Generally, the more confident the agent is the decisions will
accurately reflect your wishes, the easier it will be to make them.
In a few states, the law limits the agent's power to refuse some treatments
in certain circumstances. State law, for example, may limit decisions to what
the patient has specifically stated in the appointing document or in other
documents such as a living will. You should carefully review your state
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What if I know that members of my family disagree with my wishes?
To ensure that your wishes are followed, be certain that the person you
appoint to be your agent understands your wishes and will abide by them. Your
agent has the legal right to make decisions for you even if close family
members disagree. However, should close family members express strong
disagreement, your agent and your health care professional may find it
extremely difficult to carry out the decisions you would want.
If you foresee that your agent may encounter serious resistance, the
following steps can help: communicate with family members you anticipate may
object to your decisions. Tell them in writing whom you have appointed to be
your health care agent and explain why you have done so.
Let them know that you do not wish for them to be involved with decisions
about your medical care and give a copy of these communications to your agent
Give your primary care physician, if you have one, copies of written
communications you have made.
Prepare a specific, written living will.
Make it clear in your documents that you want your agent to resolve any
uncertainties that could arise when interpreting the living will. A way to say
this is: "My agent should make any decisions about how to interpret or when
to apply my living will."
Appointing someone you trust to be your health care agent is an important
step toward assuring that if you are not able to make decisions for yourself,
your preferences for medical treatment will be carried out at the end of your
life. You should complete the document appointing your agent carefully and
follow the witnessing requirements in your state.
Take time to talk openly with your agent so that he or she is fully aware of
your values and your wishes about end-of-life care. Also, take time to talk
with other loved ones and health care professionals, so they understand your
wishes and reasoning. Many people will consider being asked to serve as a
health care agent an honor as well as a responsibility. You can return your
agent's gift to you by providing her or him with as much preparation as you
WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization