A designation of health care surrogate is an incapacity planning document naming your health care advocate. This, along with your living will, is known as an advance directive.
What is a designation of health care surrogate?
This is a form that designates your decisionmaker in the event you need help with your care, advocacy and end-of-life wishes. Some states refer to it as a power of attorney for health care.
Should I update my health care surrogate designation?
Yes, if you have not updated your documents since 2015. Florida law was recently changed to include new options relative to when your designation of health surrogate goes into effect. The pre-2015 law said that your surrogate designation only went into effect if a doctor declared you incompetent. The new law lets the surrogate designation go into effect when you sign it. This change makes it much easier to ensure you are getting the care you need and for your surrogate to speak with your doctor without a declaration of incapacity.
Example: Mom, age 86, develops a urinary tract infection that completely disrupts her cognition and function level. If mom had the post 2015 Florida Health Care Surrogate, her trusted daughter could immediately help make mom's health care decisions without the formal necessity of two doctors declaring her incompetent. In other words, the surrogate can act faster in helping make mom's decisions.
Can my power of attorney be different than my health care surrogate?
Yes. Your durable power of attorney is for financial and legal matters, while your health care surrogate designation is for health care decisions. You can name different people to assist you as you age, but you would certainly want to make sure they get along with each other and can work together.
Why should my health care surrogate designation be separate from my living will?
Our opinion is that your designation of health care surrogate should be in a separate written form from your living will. While every situation is different, we like the idea that an elderly person or someone with beginning stages of dementia may need to change their health care surrogate but may not have the desire to change their end-of-life wishes in their living will. This allows easier adjustments to estate planning documents and clarity for all.
Example: Mom is getting forgetful at age 92. Her trusted daughter has to move away and another daughter is to become the health care surrogate. Due to mom's mental decline, she can understand her health care surrogate change but she may not be able to understand (or even want to discuss) the nuances of her own end-of-life wishes in her living will. With separate documents, we can easily change the health care surrogate but not have to broach the very touchy subject of mom's end-of-life care wishes.
What else should I consider with health care surrogate designations?
Make sure your documents have alternate people who can help you. We have seen a number of incapacity planning documents lately without alternate agents. Please call me if you would like to create or update your existing health care surrogate designation. We also invite you to attend any of my free monthly estate planning seminars to learn more.
What if my loved on is incapacitated and did not create a health care surrogate?
See our section on Health Care Proxies in Florida for more information.