A Health Care Agent is someone who makes healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to make decisions for yourself. 

A Health Care Agent is appointed in the Medical Power of Attorney portion of your Advance Health Care Directive. You can learn more about Advance Health Care Directives here. A Health Care Agent may also be known as a Health Care Proxy, Surrogate, Attorney-in-Fact, or other similar terms. 

What can a Health Care Agent do?

A Health Care Agent makes decisions about your healthcare when you cannot make those decisions yourself. The details vary a little by state, but a Health Care Agent often makes decisions about 

  • When to start or stop treatment,
  • Which types of treatment to administer, and 
  • whether to continue life support or not. 

A Health Care Agent also helps make sure your doctors follow your preferences stated in in the Living Will portion of your Advance Health Care Directive. The Living Will is where you can state your own general desires in advance. You can learn more about Living Wills here.

Who Should I name as my Health Care Agent?

You can pick almost any adult to be your Health Care Agent. Most states won’t let you name your doctor or anyone who works for your doctor. Family members and close friends are commonly chosen as Health Care Agents.

You should pick someone you trust and someone who knows you well enough that they can make decisions for you. It can be a tough responsibility and may require asking questions of your doctors about the treatment options available. 

Your Health Care Agent might need to make some difficult decisions in a stressful time, so you might want to consider someone who would be able to handle that and be able to communicate with your family and loved ones about the situation.

Should I name backup Health Care Agents? 

A backup Health Care Agent is someone you designate to be the Health Care Agent if the primary person you designate is not able to be your Health Care Agent for any reason. Similarly, a second backup Health Care Agent would be the person you choose to serve as Health Care Agent if neither the primary nor backup are able to be your Health Care Agent.

It’s a great idea to name backups and we highly encourage it! Naming a Health Care Agent is one way to help protect yourself from the unknown. Naming backups helps make sure you have someone named, even if your primary person is not available.

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