The #1 Legal Document Every Adult Needs to Have Right Now

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The coronavirus continues to disrupt daily life and leave Americans feeling uncertain of the future. It is also an unfortunate reminder that we must plan for the event where you or a loved one falls ill. One of the most important and relatively easy things you can do is to select a medical agent and set up your advance healthcare directive. 

What Is a Medical Agent?

A medical agent (also known as a healthcare agent) is a person you authorize in an Advanced Directive, otherwise known as a healthcare power of attorney. The Healthcare power of attorney makes decisions about your medical care if you are too ill to make them yourself or are otherwise unable to communicate.

Why is it important to choose a medical agent now?

As of April 12, there are 561,828 total cases of coronavirus. Of those, only a small percentage are in critical condition. So even if you get sick, you’ll most likely have mild symptoms and recover quickly. However, since no one knows exactly how they will be affected by the virus, it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Part of that planning is making sure someone can make healthcare decisions for you if you fall ill and are unable to make those decisions for yourself. Under ordinary circumstances, if you do not have an advanced directive or health care power of attorney, your loved ones can petition the court to be appointed your guardian so that an agent can make health care decisions on your behalf. 

However, due to the current COVID-19 crisis, the courts are closed to all but emergency petitions, and if you are ill, your family may not have time to seek an appointment on your behalf. It is more important than ever to have a health care power of attorney in place. 

Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Medical Agent

A medical agent is an important role, and the person you choose will have the power to make critical healthcare decisions—like consenting to a treatment plan and whether to accept or refuse medical treatment. As a result, it is crucial to think carefully about who you choose to fill this role. Many people assume that their spouse or their oldest child should take on this role, but they are not always the best suited. Here are some factors to consider when selecting an agent:

Emotional maturity. People handle stress differently, and not everyone can set aside their emotions and make prudent decisions when someone they love is suffering. In addition, some people are not assertive enough to act as a strong advocate in the face of differing opinions of other family members--or even health care providers--who suggest a treatment plan you have informed your medical agent you do not want. You should choose someone who can reason in emotionally challenging circumstances.

Location. The person you choose to act as your medical agent should be someone who lives close by and is able to act on your behalf very quickly in the event of a medical emergency or if you need your advocate to serve in that role for an extended time period. In current times, many people might be under a mandatory or recommended stay-at-home order, or may not be available or willing to travel to another city or state. 

Consider naming several alternate agents to account for someone’s potential unavailability.

Is willing/able to serve. Make sure that the person you choose is willing and able to set aside the time necessary to serve as your patient advocate. Don’t just assume the person you want to be your medical agent is willing: Be proactive and ask if he or she is willing to take on that role. Keep in mind that if you are elderly, you may want to avoid naming a friend or family member who also is older, as there is a greater chance that they will experience mental or physical decline at the same time as you, which could impede their ability to serve as your advocate when the time comes.

Will honor your wishes no matter what. Your medical agent has a duty to make decisions on your behalf that you would have made to the extent that he or she is aware of your wishes. This is the case even if your medical agent disagrees with your choices. As a result, your medical agent needs to be willing to carry out your wishes even if that is not consistent with their values, opinions, or wishes. It is a good idea to appoint someone who has values and religious beliefs that are similar to yours to reduce the instances in which your agent’s opinions differ significantly from yours. Once you have chosen an 

Need help?

Medical directives may be among the most important legal documents you prepare - especially in light of COVID-19. Picking a medical agent can be tricky, and we can help you think through your choice. 

We can also help with any other estate planning needs you may have—whether that’s setting up a trust, will, or durable power of attorney for financial decisions.  

Please give us a call today to discuss how we can help you and your family be prepared should you fall ill from the coronavirus.