Importance of a Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will

A healthcare surrogate allows a loved one such as a trusted friend or family member to make medical treatment decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions and communicate your wishes to doctors. Without this essential document in place, your loved ones will be forced into court where a guardianship or conservatorship will be held.

During guardianship and conservatorship proceedings, a judge, in a public courtroom, hears testimony from your loved ones and medical professionals as to why you should be deemed incompetent and have a guardian named to make healthcare decisions for you. This procedure is public, expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for those who love you – and for the medical professionals as well; most doctors don’t like to go to court.

Fortunately, court involvement can be avoided simply by having a health care surrogate in place and having that document accessible to your loved ones. In this document, you authorize a trusted loved one to act on your behalf, but only if you are not able to do so yourself. Rest assured, no one takes over your health care if you don’t need help.

A healthcare surrogate not only saves precious decision-making time, but it also makes sure that the individual you trust the most has the power to make important healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to make the decisions on your own.

You can also be assured that if you have any advanced medical directives in place such as a living will, the burden of that decision has been lifted from your loved one’s shoulders. They do not have to make that decision because you’ve already made it.

A living will is a type of advanced medical directive in that it documents a medical decision you make in advance. The living will directs your medical doctors and loved ones to follow your wishes.

Typically, in a living will, the wishes are to be kept as comfortable as possible and to avoid medical heroics such as life support, forced feeding, and surgeries to artificially extend your life when you are brain dead and there is no reasonable hope of recovery. The living will is effective if you are in an irreversible coma, permanent vegetative state, or otherwise terminally ill with no hope of recovery.

Serious illness and living wills are not fun to talk about, but talking about and then documenting your wishes in a living will drafted by an estate planning attorney is essential to you staying in control, living the life you want, and dying with dignity. It also removes a significant burden from the shoulders of your loved ones. No one wants to be responsible for “pulling the plug,” yet in these limited circumstances, most of our clients feel it’s the right thing to do.