Estate planning isn’t just about designating how your assets will be distributed among your heirs and other beneficiaries. A thorough estate plan also includes provisions for a time when you may be seriously injured or ill and not able to make your own decisions.
A living will (also known as an advance directive) allows you to designate things like what kind of life-prolonging procedures and treatments, including pain medications, you do and don’t want if you’re at the end of your life, have a terminal condition or will never again be able to have a meaningful life (for example, if your brain is no longer functioning).
None of this is pleasant to think about. However, once you do start thinking about it and deciding what to include in your living will, you probably realize that you couldn’t possibly cover every potential scenario.
What qualities should your surrogate have?
That’s why it’s crucial to choose a health care surrogate who knows you, understands you and whom you feel comfortable speaking for you if it becomes necessary. Along with putting your living will in place, you’ll want to designate a health care surrogate who will have the authority to talk with your medical team and make decisions on your behalf. Those decisions should be based on your living will where applicable. However, they may also need to use their own judgment at times.
Choosing a health care surrogate requires careful thought. In addition to the things we mentioned above, you want someone who:
- Can receive and process information calmly and make decisions quickly and under pressure
- Is reliable and will be accessible when needed
- Won’t be intimidated by relatives, doctors, clergy or others
You also want to make sure you choose a surrogate who’s comfortable advocating for your wishes – and preferably one whose beliefs around end-of-life care align with yours. You may want to let them read your living will before they agree to take on the responsibility.
Even if you’re married, it’s wise to still designate your spouse as your health care surrogate (assuming you want them to be). Having a designated surrogate can help shut down intrafamily conflicts. It’s also smart to name an alternate in case your spouse is also severely injured or worse.
By having experienced legal guidance as you put these and other estate planning documents in place, you can feel comfortable that they’ll be legally valid and will work as you intend if they’re ever needed.