What You Need to Know about Designating a Health Care Surrogate

Having the ability make decisions about your own health care is greatly valued by most people. Medical treatment is a very personal issue, and it is common for people to disagree on the correct approach, making the right to make these decisions even more important. At some point, though, many people will be faced with a medical situation or emergency that takes away their ability to actively collaborate and decide the next steps with their doctor. It is at this time that prudent estate planning can take the guess work out of who should speak for the incapacitated person and what their wishes might be about medical intervention. Designating a health care surrogate is the easiest and most effective method of naming someone to speak on your behalf on health care issues when you cannot speak for yourself. This legal option reduces possible delays while the family tries to figure out who should be the representative and allows the doctors to deal with just one person, which limits the opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding.

What You Need to Properly Designate a Surrogate

It is worth noting that a person’s wishes about medical intervention for end of life decisions, i.e., when he/she is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state, is made through a separate document, called a living will, that is normally included in a person’s estate planning package. The person named in the living will and the health care surrogate forms is usually the same so there is one voice making all medical determinations.

In order to execute a valid health care surrogate form, you need the following:

  • the signature of the person making the designation, or the principal. If that person is unable to sign, someone else can be directed to sign on his/her behalf; and
  • two witnesses to the principal’s signature. The person named as the surrogate cannot be a witness, and at least one witness cannot be the principal’s spouse or blood relative.

The principal also has the ability to name an optional surrogate in the event the original is unable or unwilling to undertake the responsibility. The designation listed in the document remains in effect until the principal revokes it, unless a termination date is listed. A person can revoke the document in by doing any of the following:

  • executing another document that revokes or amends the designation;
  • physically destroying the health care surrogate designation document;
  • verbally expressing an intent to revoke or amend the designation; or
  • signing a new designation considerably differs from this designation.

When the Surrogate Can Act

Historically, health care surrogates did not have the authority to act until the principal was declared incapacitated by the principal’s primary physician, which could become problematic if there was disagreement among doctors about the principal’s capacity. Under a revision of the statute that went into effect last year, the principal now has the power to grant this authority immediately upon the creation of the designation. Further, parents and legal guardians now have the ability to name a surrogate for their minor child’s health care decisions in the event the parent or legal guardian is unavailable to perform this responsibility. This new addition is especially important for parents who travel frequently or spend a lot of time away from their children.

Contact an Estate Attorney

Planning for end-of-life and post-death scenarios is not something that should be postponed until the very end. No one ever knows when they may become incompetent or incapacitated, so it is important to consider how to handle medical, financial, and guardianship issues well before you think you should. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. handles a spectrum of estate planning issues and can help you make sure your wishes are followed. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Contact Form Tab