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Health Care Agents: Appointing One and Being One

Can I appoint more than one person to be my health care agent?

In many states you may not appoint more than one person to act as your agent at the same time. Unnecessary conflict and confusion may result when one person does not have clear decision making authority. The medical providers also can communicate more effectively when they know that there is one person clearly designated to receive information and make decisions. You can appoint an alternate agent in case the primary agent is unavailable or unable to serve. You can ask your agent to share informationand consult with other family members if you wish.

Parents sometimes want to appoint all of their adult children to act together as the agent to avoid "playing favorites." If you do not want to make this choice alone, you could ask your children to decide among themselves who should be the primary agent. Practical considerations such as location often make the decision obvious; sometimes one child is more willing to take on this role or is more comfortable dealing with medical personnel than another.

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How do I appoint an agent?

Every state now has some legal document to use when appointing a health care agent. Forms are available from a variety of sources that may include your local hospital, department of aging, or department of health.

The documents are not difficult to complete, read the instructions carefully and follow the required witnessing procedure. You do not need a lawyer to complete the documents.

Give copies of your completed document to your agent, alternate agent, physician, and anyone else who may be involved with your health care. Keep the original in a safe but accessible place. DO NOT KEEP YOUR ADVANCE DIRECTIVES IN A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX. Other people may need access to them. If you wish to change the person you have appointed, you must prepare a new document and be sure to notify and send copies of the new document to all involved. You can change or revoke your appointment at any time.

Are there limits to the decisions my agent can make?

Yes. Your health care agent cannot make financial decisions or manage your property unless you have provided that authority by other legal means. You can also limit your agent's authority by putting restrictions in your document. In a few states an agent can make decisions based only on what the patient has stated explicitly in the appointment document or living will. You should carefully check the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization instructions for your state documents and the documents themselves to see what limits apply.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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