Health Care Directive Questions

/ July 13, 2011

In my practice, I am regularly asked many questions about completing a Health Care Directive:

  • Who should I name as my health care agent?
  • Can I name all __ (pick a number) of my kids?
  • What if my agent lives out of state?
  • What if my wishes change regarding the instructions listed?
  • What if technological advancements render my chosen instructions obsolete?
  • What happens if my instructions do not cover a particular situation?

And on and on the list of questions go.  We have written about Health Care Directives on Epilawg in the past (A Case for Health Care Directives, Requirements for a Valid Health Care Directive, etc.) and we provide a complimentary form.  Here, I would like to share some of the tips I provide to my clients.

The first – and most important – decision is to choose a health care agent, the person who will act on your behalf and make health care decisions if you are unable to communicate for yourself.  You are free to name as many people as you would like but you must consider the logistics of this choice.  Are they really all going to act?  What if they disagree?  Where are they located?  Naming an out-of-state agent is possibly, but again, consider the logistics.

I encourage you to have an open and honest dialogue with your prospective agent regarding your goals and wishes.   It is important to make sure that this person would be willing and able to serve in this capacity.  Additionally, it is critical for your agent to understand what kind of quality of life is important to you.  Make sure this individual knows you and understands your goals and wishes.  It is important that this person will act based on your wishes and not their own.

The second part of the Health Care Directive includes your guidance and instructions regarding your health care.  Your instructions are important, however, they may change over time as your wishes and views changes and as medical advancements occur.  For these reasons, it is critical to regularly communicate with your health care agent regarding your goals and wishes.

Your health care agent has the power to override or act beyond the instructions in your Health Care Directive.  This is a positive thing because, after all, your Health Care Directive cannot possibly address all medical situations you may encounter.  Accordingly, your health care agent is charged with the responsibility of, above all else, acting in your best interests.

In sum, I advise my clients to carefully consider who they are naming and to regularly communicate with this individual.