How Effective Is My Health Care Surrogate?

How Effective Is My Health Care Surrogate? Image

As a board-certified expert in Elder Law, I take pride in the medical directives that our firm drafts, reviews, and executes with clients and their families.  In fact, many years of planning, as well as the first-hand experience of utilizing such documents before my mother’s passing, have shaped these very documents that protect an enhanced quality of life while advocating for patients. 

One of the important medical directives that I prepare for clients and their families is known in Florida as a Health Care Surrogate.  A Health Care Surrogate, akin to a Health Care Power of Attorney, empowers a person(s) of your choosing to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your desires. 

For example, were you to be rendered unconscious after a car accident, who would you want to be able to make medical decisions on your behalf?  Many married people will name their respective spouses as the designated persons to make medical decisions. 

But what if a married couple are both injured in the accident?  Or what if your spouse develops dementia or Alzheimer’s to the point of not being able to act for you?  It is vital that a successor surrogate be designated to act if the primary surrogate is incapable of acting.  In other words, you want to make certain that your Health Care Surrogate names a backup surrogate to act were something to prevent your primary surrogate from making decisions for you. 

In addition, it is vital that your named surrogates’ contact information be provided in the document so that they can be contacted in a medical emergency.  In other words, it is not enough to merely name a surrogate.  Rather, it is crucial that the document provide telephone numbers where the surrogate will most likely be reached.  Typically, my clients will list their surrogates’ cell, work, and/or home numbers. 

Know that the Florida Statutes have provisions that will allow certain relatives to make medical decisions for you if a Health Care Surrogate has not been executed or can’t be located.  Having said that, the issue may be that those certain relatives are not who you desire to be able to make these types of decisions on your behalf. 

For example, the statutes permit the children of an unmarried individual to make such decisions.  But the statute does not state which child will act.  What happens if you have five (5) children (and none of them get along)?  Who will make the decisions for you?  My advice is to not leave the choice to the legislature and the courts.

In selecting a surrogate, I would encourage you to name someone that knows you well, will be a strong advocate in your time of need, and will honor your wishes.  A poor choice would be to name someone that refuses to enter hospitals and is overly emotional in difficult situations.  Rather, you want someone that will be at your bedside at a moment’s notice and calmly manage such emergencies that may arise.  It is also important that you communicate with your surrogate on how you would like to receive care in various circumstances.

Let us assume that you have adhered to this blog’s advice and have executed an effective Health Care Surrogate document.  Acknowledge that only half, albeit an important one, of your mission is complete.  Realize that having the most wonderful Health Care Surrogate document in the world is truly of no use to you if nobody knows that you have executed one or cannot locate it during an emergency.  In a future blog submission, I will share some of the best practices for making certain that these documents are known and available when needed.

If you need to execute a Health Care Surrogate and/or other advanced directives, please contact a knowledgeable Elder Law Attorney (one that is board-certified most preferably) to assist you. 

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