End-of-life care planning is important while we’re still healthy, and the pandemic has made it clear that illness and disability are not reserved for the elderly. Do your loved ones know your thoughts and wishes should a situation arise? According to the National Institute on Aging, 1 in 3 people guessed incorrectly when asked how their loved one would want their end-of-life care handled. It can be an uncomfortable subject to discuss and, in some families, maybe even a taboo subject. However, advance care planning empowers our loved ones when it comes time to handle our end-of-life care and decisions and helps make sure that our preferences and arrangements are known and honored.
One primary aspect of advance care planning includes legally designating a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to communicate these decisions yourself. This designated person is known as a healthcare proxy (or durable power of attorney healthcare agent, surrogate, representative, attorney-in-fact, or patient advocate). A healthcare proxy decides the types of medical care, procedures, treatments, or services you receive, as well as who provides that care and where. If not otherwise predetermined in advance care directives, they may also make decisions about autopsy, tissue and organ donation, and what happens to your body after death.
The American Bar Association has a helpful guide for selecting a healthcare proxy.
Your appointed healthcare proxy will have access to your medical records. If you are a Medicare recipient, Medicare will need to know about this individual which can be communicated by completing their Authorized Representatives form.
It is important to note a separate document is required to assign a person to handle your finances. Your healthcare proxy can only make medical decisions for you. Contact your lawyer for more information on a power of attorney for your finances.
I encourage a discussion about assigning a healthcare proxy and opening the conversation of advance care planning—including a Living Will—at your next visit.