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Health Care Agents: Appointing One and Being One

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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 as well.

  • 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 can.

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