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What You Need to Know about a Health Care Surrogate

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There might be a time when you need someone to step in and take care of your health care decisions.

It’s human nature not to want to plan ahead for things we’d prefer to avoid, like illness or death. Yet, 42 percent of Americans have a friend or relative who is suffering from a terminal illness. There might be a time when you need someone to step in and take care of your health care decisions. But, fail to plan for such contingencies, and you run the risk of having decisions made on your behalf that you would not have made for yourself. 

Naming a health care surrogate gives you the opportunity to have someone you trust to make your health care decisions for you, should you not be able to do so. It also gives you the chance to outline what type of medical treatments you would or would not want to receive in certain cases.

Since a health care surrogate is responsible for making health care decisions on your behalf, that individual must be someone who is reliable and who you trust to carry out your wishes. 

There are two things to distinguish: choosing your health care surrogate and being a health care surrogate to a loved one.

Making medical care decisions for a loved one may seem daunting, but that’s all the more reason why it’s important to learn about their medical condition, medical history, and treatment options. You should be able to communicate their needs with their medical team and the rest of the family.

If you are asked to be a health care surrogate, your duties start when your loved one can no longer make their own health care decisions. Some decisions you may have to make on their behalf include:

  • Where medical treatment is to be received, such as a hospice or hospital
  • When to decline or pursue medical tests, surgery, treatment, life-support, or medications
  • Where to apply for assistance programs and insurance benefits on their behalf
  • When to advocate for their wishes or take legal action

It’s never too early to prepare for your health care surrogate role. Much of your preparation involves learning about your loved one’s values and beliefs, their health, and their end-of-life care preferences. These may seem like uncomfortable conversations to have, but they are necessary. If your loved one is willing to discuss how they would like to be treated in different scenarios, such as an infection or coma, it’s also a good idea to include this in your conversations. If your loved one has a living will, you will need to know about it.

Once your surrogacy comes into effect, try to visit the place where he or she is being treated to learn about your loved one’s condition and treatment options. When you have a good understanding of the condition and different treatment options, then you can start to consider the best choices that are in line with your loved one’s wishes.

Having the right open conversations at the right time and being prepared can go a long way towards helping you be the best health care guardian you can be. By discussing your loved one’s wishes in advance and understanding your role, you’ll be prepared to speak on their behalf at a time when you are really needed.

Shivon Patel is an attorney with The Principal Law Firm in Sanford. Her practice areas include business law, real estate, and estate planning. For more information, visit

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