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Who should I choose as my agent in a medical power of attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to select someone to make medical decisions on your behalf in case you are ever so severely injured or ill that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. The person you choose as your alternate decision-maker is called your agent.

Your agent can be authorized to make almost any medical decision on your behalf, including decisions about life-sustaining treatment. Because of the serious and potentially sensitive responsibilities your agent may be tasked with, you should take great care when selecting this person.

Do not choose an agent on a whim

The person you choose as your agent should depend on several factors. Legally, any adult can serve as your agent, except your doctor, those employed by your health care provider, your residential care provider or those employed by your residential care provider.

Many people choose a spouse, sibling, adult child or close friend as their agent. However, someone’s relation to you is not always a good enough reason to select him or her as your agent.

Some other factors you may consider include:

  • The likelihood this person will choose your wishes over his or her own wishes for you
  • How open and honest you feel you can be with this person
  • This person’s ability to handle possible pushback from family members
  • This person’s willingness to ask doctors difficult questions
  • If this person lives close enough to your hospital to be there when needed
  • The likelihood this person will outlive you

Consider selecting alternate agents too

Although you want to choose the most appropriate person as your agent, it can also be valuable to choose alternate agents. That way one of your alternate agents can step up as your alternate decision-maker if something prevents your first-choice person from being there.

A medical power of attorney can help ensure you receive only the treatment you want to receive, even when you cannot express your wishes to your doctor yourself. However, it is wise to put great care into your choice of agent. The person you choose may one day be responsible for making decisions that could literally mean life or death.

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