It’s especially important to name a healthcare proxy, because the chances of having a crisis escalates dramatically as we age. That’s why so many people put off naming a healthcare agent, says Forbes in the article “How to Select A Healthcare Agent” often only addressing this, when they are completing other documents for their overall estate plan.
What usually happens is that people get so stressed out about naming a healthcare agent that they put it off or make a bad selection. Making it even worse, is neglecting to tell the person they have chosen for this important responsibility.
It’s not guaranteed that the person you chose as your healthcare proxy will ever be called on to serve. However, if they are, you’ll want to make sure they meet certain guidelines. For one thing, they’ll need to be at least 18 years old. They cannot be your direct health care provider or any of the direct health care provider’s employees, unless that person is also your spouse. They have to be willing to speak up and adhere to your own wishes, even if those wishes are not the same as their own. You’ll want to have a very candid conversation with the person you think you want to name as your healthcare agent.
You might want to go through this exercise to make sure they are really willing to carry out your wishes. Create a worksheet that describes in detail some of the situations they may face. There are a few sources for this kind of worksheet, including one from a group called Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit centered on helping people get what they want at the end of their lives.
If you are close with your family, it may seem obvious to select your spouse, first-born child, or a sibling for this task. However, be realistic: when push comes to shove, will they be able to stand up for your wishes? Will they be able to deal with the fallout from family members, who may not agree with what you want at the end of your life? They’ll need to be up to the challenge.
Age is a real factor here. You want your agent to be available in both the immediate and distant future. If you have a sibling who is only two years younger than you, she’ll be 84 when you are 86. That may not be the time for her to make hard decisions, or she may not be available—or alive. Select a few backups, and make sure the primary, secondary and even tertiary are listed on your advance directive.
Geography also matters. The person may be called upon in a crisis—if you are on the West Coast and they are in the Midwest, will they be able to get to your bedside in time? Many hospitals and skilled nursing facilities require a live human being to be physically present, if critical care decisions need to be made. Someone who lives within a 50-mile radius of you, might be a better choice.
Once you’ve made the decision, you’re almost done. Have a conversation with the person, whether they are the primary or a backup. You should also have a conversation with your estate planning attorney, to make sure that your healthcare directive and any related documents are all set for your future.
Reference: Forbes (April 10, 2019) “How to Select A Healthcare Proxy”