April 16–National Healthcare Decisions Day: The Importance of Naming a Healthcare Agent
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, so we want to emphasize the importance of advance healthcare planning. This is a difficult conversation—no one really looks forward to sitting down with his/her loved ones and talking about end-of-life planning. Instead, people tend to ignore it and keep it buried at the bottom of their to-do lists.
Today’s baby boomer generation has redefined “aging”
It’s easy to put off advance healthcare planning because today’s baby-boomer generation has raised the bar on aging—they’re youthful and vigorous; embarking on new careers; traveling the world and living their lives to the fullest. They think they’ll have plenty of time for end-of-life-planning when they get “old”. But the time for planning is always too soon until it’s too late. Sadly, half the people over 65 who are admitted to a hospital are unable to make decisions for themselves. The reality is that the majority of us will have at least a temporary period when we are unable to communicate our healthcare wishes.
What is an Advance Healthcare Directive
Advance Healthcare Directives (AHDs) are written directions that appoint another individual to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. You not only should be appointing a trusted person to make decisions for you, but you should be thinking about important decisions such as whether or not you want to remain in your own home or in nursing care, when to enlist the help of hospice care when you are clearly in failing health.
How to choose an Agent or Healthcare Proxy
A Healthcare Proxy (also called a Healthcare Agent) is the person you choose to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated or too sick to make them for yourself. Once permissioned, your Proxy can talk with your doctors, consult your medical records, and make decisions about tests, procedures and treatment options.
Some things to be thinking about as you choose a Healthcare Agent
Will the person make decisions on your behalf even if his/her own wishes and belief system don’t necessarily align with yours?
Will the person find it difficult making decisions on your behalf because of the close emotional connection?
Can your Agent make fairly quick decisions–“Your mother has pneumonia. Do you want us to start antibiotics?” or “Your brother is no longer able to take food by mouth. Do you want us to insert a feeding tube?”
In one example, a woman initially chose her mother as her Agent. But then she realized that she would likely outlive her mother, making this an impractical choice. She also knew that it might be too painful for her mother to be put in the position of making decisions that would have such a direct effect on her life, so she chose a friend instead.
When to choose an Agent or Proxy
Up until age 18, parents automatically serve as a child’s Agent. After 18, no one can access your medical record or make decisions for you unless that person has written permission. Everyone age 18 or older should complete a Healthcare Proxy form — even if perfectly healthy. If you’re over 18 and haven’t yet chosen a Healthcare Agent, the time to do this is now!
It’s good to review your choice of proxy:
At the start of each decade. When you turn 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, etc.
At a major life event. When you go to college, get married, have children, are eligible for Medicare, have a major illness.
At California Document Preparers, we make getting an Advance Healthcare Directive easy; it’s part of our comprehensive Living Trust package that also includes a Power of Attorney. We want our clients to be thinking about all of the details that should be included in this document. We provide space to list important contact information for healthcare providers, financial service advisers, insurance agents, veterinarians, etc. We also encourage our clients to include the logins and passwords to their online accounts. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for your loved ones at what will be a very difficult time.