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Choosing a Health Care Agent - Choosing a Health Care Agent

Choosing a health care agent is an important decision that will help ensure that your wishes for medical care will be respected if you are not able to speak for yourself. The following steps will help you choose and then prepare your agent for speaking on your behalf.

  1. Choose someone you trust to be your agent. Think about who in your life knows you well and who could intelligently apply this knowledge in different circumstances. Also, consider whether the person could handle the stress and emotional turmoil that can go along with these important decisions. Be sure he or she could handle this responsibility. It may help to review some basic considerations for choosing a health care agent.
  2. See what things to include in your advance directive. And take time to carefully consider medical issues and the types of care available in different situations. Talk to your agent about your values and preferences for medical treatment.
    • Make sure your health care agent knows what you consider to be an acceptable quality of life and how high the likelihood of a full or acceptable recovery should be before you would accept treatment. You do not want to limit your agent's ability to make decisions, but he or she should know what is important to you.
    • Do not assume that someone close to you, such as a child or spouse, knows what you would want. Your agent may not know about or share your preferences, so it is very important that you talk openly about your wishes.
    • It is not possible to discuss every possible situation that might arise in which your agent may need to make a decision for you. But if you talk with your health care agent about what is important to you, your agent will be better able to make the kinds of decisions that you would make if you were able.
  3. Complete the necessary forms to appoint your agent.
    • All states have a document you can use to appoint a health care agent. This form is usually called a medical power of attorney or durable power of attorney for health care. You do not need a lawyer or attorney to complete this form, but it must be witnessed by someone other than you and your agent. Witnessing requirements vary by state. This form is available through your state's bar association or office for the aging. Law offices and hospitals also have these forms or can direct you to where to find them. You can also get copies of the forms for your state and instructions for completing the forms by contacting Caring Connections (www.caringinfo.org or 1-800-658-8898).
    • Your state may offer an online registry. This is a place you can store your advance directive online so authorized healthcare providers can find it right away.
    • Read the forms carefully. Some states may restrict the types of decisions that a health care agent can make or may limit the health care agent's authority to only those decisions written in your living will.
    • Depending on the laws in your state, you may wish to involve your health care agent as you write your living will so that your agent fully understands your wishes.
  4. Tell your family, your doctors, and anyone else who might be involved in your medical care who your agent is and how to contact your agent.
    • Keep copies of your living will and health care agent documents in a safe but easy-to-access place where others can find them.
    • Give copies of these documents to your doctor, your agent, your family members, and anyone else who may need them.

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