As the coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life and leave our future's uncertain, you don’t have to feel helpless during this pandemic.
You can be proactive and prepared should you or a loved one fall ill. One of the most important and relatively easy things you need to do is set up your advance healthcare directive and designate your medical agent.
Before we dive into some of the details of what an Advance Health Care Directive consists of, if you are an adult and have a minor child, than the document referred to in this is article could very well be the second legal document that you need. Guardianship documents are just as important (if not more important) than health care documents! Today we focus on health care documents, but expect another post soon about guardianship documents.
What Is a Medical Agent?
A medical agent (also called a healthcare agent, healthcare surrogate, a healthcare proxy, or a medical proxy) is a person you authorize in a medical power of attorney (also known as an Advanced Health Care Directive) to make decisions about your medical care if you are too ill to make them yourself or are otherwise unable to communicate your wishes.
Why is it important to choose a medical agent now?
As of April 20, there were 391,665 total cases of coronavirus. Of those, only 13,951 are in critical condition. So even if you get sick, statistics show that most people will likely have mild symptoms and recover quickly. You may feel flu like symptoms and a sore throat but feel back to normal within a few days or weeks. Others however will unfortunately be hospitalized, put on ventilators and isolated from their families. However, no one knows beforehand how they will be affected by the virus, and how their body will respond.
Although there are a lot of things outside of our control right now, there are somethings that are. By focusing on those things that are within our control we can be better prepared for tomorrow and the future.
It’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Part of that planning is making sure someone can make healthcare decisions for you if you fall ill and are unable to make those decisions for yourself. It is important to choose now because we only have a limited time to choose our medical agent. The moment you become incapacitated (whether it be by a virus, car accident, or some other incident) it is too late.
Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Medical Agent
A medical agent is an important role, and the person you choose will have the power to make critical healthcare decisions—like consenting to a treatment plan, whether to accept or refuse medical treatment, and which healthcare providers or hospitals to use for your care. As a result, it is crucial to think carefully about who you choose to fill this role. Many people simply assume that their spouse or their oldest child should take on this role, but they are not always the best suited. Here are some factors to consider when selecting an agent:
1. Emotional maturity. People handle stress differently, and not everyone is able to set aside their emotions and make level-headed decisions when someone they love is suffering. In addition, some people are simply not assertive enough to act as a strong advocate in the face of differing opinions of other family members--or even health care providers--who suggest a treatment plan you have informed your medical agent you do not want. You should choose someone who is able to think rationally in emotionally difficult circumstances, even if that means you must look outside of your family to find the best person for the job.
2. Location. The person you choose to act as your medical agent should be someone who lives close by and is able to act on your behalf very quickly in the event of a medical emergency or if you need your advocate to serve in that role for an extended time period. In current times, many people might be under a mandatory or recommended stay-at-home order, or may not be available or willing to travel to another city or state. Consider naming several alternate agents to account for someone’s potential unavailability. So right now anyone who has to take an airplane probably shouldn't be your first choice, and if they are maybe now is a time to consider making a change even if it is only for the short term.
3. Are they willing and able to serve. Acting as a medical agent can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining job. So whoever is going to serve in this role has to be Make sure willing and able to set aside the time necessary to serve as your medical agent. Also, don’t just assume the person you want to be your medical agent is willing. You'ld be surprised how many times people are surprised to find out that they were listed as someone medical agent. It's also good to keep in mind the age of your medical agent. Your parents or spouse may not be a great choice if they are experience health related problems.
4. Will they honor your wishes no matter what. Your medical agent has a duty to make decisions on your behalf that you would have made to the extent that they are aware of your wishes. I am sure you can see the difficulty here. Your medical agent has to be someone who is willing to respect your wishes no matter what!
People You Should Not Choose
California law prohibiting certain people from acting as your medical agent, and other seemingly well-qualified individuals are poor choices as well. However, it must first be stated, do not choose anyone that you do not trust with your life! Because they will literally be in charge of it if they ever have to use these documents.
Minors. California law expressly prohibits a minor from serving as a medical agent. Besides that most minors lacks the emotional maturity that we previously talked about
Your health care providers. Generally health care providers
Medical directives may be among the most important legal documents you prepare - especially in light of COVID-19. Picking a medical agent can be tricky and we can help you think through your choice. We can also help with all of your other estate planning needs as this medical directive is just one piece to a larger puzzle to being prepared. Give us a call and we can discuss how we can help you and your family be prepared for today, tomorrow, and the future.