The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a renewed interest in estate planning. Indeed, many people who have put off making a will or other critical estate planning documents are now looking to get their affairs in order. One such document is a Designation of Health Care Surrogate, which is a special type of power of attorney for medical decisions.
If you do not currently have a Health Care Surrogate, here is a brief overview of what the designation entails and why it is a good idea to have one.
What Can a Health Surrogate Do (and Not Do)?
Florida law permits you to designate another person, known as a “surrogate,” to “make health care decisions” for you. The surrogate can only act if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. As long as you have “decision making capacity,” your wishes and instructions to your health care providers override any contrary decisions made by the surrogate. Unless you direct otherwise, your surrogate only steps in and takes charge after your primary physician determines you are no longer capable of making your own health care decisions.
It is generally a good idea to name a backup to your surrogate if your first choice is unavailable or unable to act for any reason. You can also name two or more people to serve as “co-surrogates,” but you should think carefully before taking this step. If your co-surrogates disagree as to how to proceed with your care, a judge may need to get involved and appoint a guardian to make a final decision.
In designating a health care surrogate, you can authorize that person to perform any of the following actions on your behalf:
● receive information related to your health care from your doctor or other providers;
● discuss your current medical condition and treatments with your providers;
● give or refuse consent to any medical procedures, including “life-prolonging procedures”;
● apply for government benefits to help pay for the cost of your health care; and
● make “anatomical gifts,” i.e., consent to organ donation.
Again, it is important to emphasize that you have the right to make all of these decisions for yourself. You can even sign a separate “living will” to clearly express how you wish to be treated in the event you have a terminal or end stage condition, or you are in a “persistent vegetative state” with no reasonable chance of recovery.
Also note, by designating a health care surrogate, you are only authorizing that person to make medical decisions. Your surrogate has no authority to manage your property or finances. You need to sign a separate power of attorney to appoint someone to handle those matters for you.
Even when Florida is not in the grips of a worldwide pandemic, you should still take the time to create (or review) your estate plan. A qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney can help. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free confidential consultation with a member of our estate planning team.