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9 Key Things to Know about Living Wills & Health Care Surrogates

Image of a young women giving a health check to an elderly man

Photo courtesy of Wix

What is a designation of health care surrogate?

A designation of health care surrogate (sometimes called a heath care power) is a specialized power of attorney which is authorized by Florida law. The designation allows you to appoint a surrogate, or agent, to make health care decisions for you if you become unable to make and communicate those decisions yourself.

Can I appoint more than one health care surrogate?

Unlike a Durable Power of Attorney, we do not recommend that you sign multiple designations of health care surrogates. The concern is that you could have surrogates making conflicting decisions. Remembering that you are not capable of making medical decisions when the designation becomes effective, you want to be as clear as possible by providing as much direction as possible. You can certainly name alternate surrogates, in a specified order.

Can my health care surrogate stop treatments?

Most health care surrogate designations contain the ability to both start and stop life sustaining treatments. If the heath care surrogate starts a particular treatment and it is unsuccessful, the treatment can be withdrawn.

When does my surrogate have the authority to act?

Your health care surrogate can act only when you lose your decision making ability. A physician will make this decision. At that time, your health care surrogate will have the authority to work with you physicians to make sure that your medical preferences are followed.

What conditions might take away my ability to direct my own care?

Stroke, dementia, coma or terminal illness such as cancer can render you unable to make your own decisions.

What kind of decisions can my health care surrogate make?

Your health care directive will allow you to specify what kind of medical treatment you desire including the decision to withhold or withdraw life sustaining treatments.

Is this the same as a “Living Will”?

No. Florida law permits both a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will Both documents are statements of a patient’s health care treatment preferences. The Living Will, however, is a statement directly to a physician, and does not require that a physician consult with the patient’s health care surrogate.

The Living Will is an end of life statement that is only effective if the patient is terminally ill, in an end stage condition or vegetative state. The Living Will provides comfort to those clients whose family members may not be geographically close, knowing that their wishes will be followed in the event that their health care surrogate is not available. Most clients have both a designation of health care surrogate and a living will.

What should I do with my health care powers after they are signed?

Your health care directives (both the designation of health care surrogate and your living will) should be given to you attending physician for inclusion in your permanent medical records. Additionally, if you are hospitalized or undergo surgery, the hospital or surgical facility should have a copy. You may also want to give a copy to your surrogate, so that they know that they have been named, and they are clear on your medical directions.

Where do I go from here?

Think about the person(s) that you would like to name as your agent under your durable power of attorney, and your advocate under your designation of health care advocate and living will. IF possible, you should also think about naming an alternate to act in the event that your primary agent dies or is unable to act.

Then make an appointment with me. I will walk you through the process of drafting and signing your substitute decision making powers.

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