What is a Florida Health Care Surrogate?
In Florida, a Health Care Surrogate is a person who makes your health care decisions for you when you are not able to make these decisions for yourself. This is someone who will have legal authority to pass on your wishes to your health provider (doctor, hospital, etc.) when you cannot. Often, people like spouses, adult children, parents, brothers or sisters, or sometimes close friends are named as Health Care Surrogates. This is done by executing a legal document, like this online example provided by the Agency for Health Care Administration.
10 Reasons Why Your Parents Need Health Care Surrogates
Children may want to discuss the need for a Health Care Surrogate (”HCS”) with their parents in advance of the need for having one, as part of their parents’ estate planning needs. Why do this? Here are ten reasons from a Florida probate lawyer’s perspective on why your parents need health care surrogates:
1. Parents Can Make Sure That Siblings Aren’t Overwhelmed by Tough Decisions to be Made
In the future, adult children may not be able to figure out what the best interests of their parent may be. These decisions can involve lots of complicated decisions, including if certain types of medication should be used or if surgery should take place. With a Health Care Surrogate in place, the burden of these decisions can be avoided. The HCS may be required to investigate all available options and makes the decision on when it’s best to do things like moving a parent to a care facility.
2. Parents Can Decide Now, Before Disability Choices Must Be Made
There are times when it is obvious to everyone except the parent(s) that changes need to be made for the best interests of Mom or Dad. Particularly for independent parents, it can be hard to face the reality that physical limitations (or mental challenges) warrant the need for care. Having a Health Care Surrogate helps children with a parent who is resisting recognizing new realities.
3. Parents Can Protect Against Emotional Fights Between Children Over Care Issues
Sometimes, children cannot agree on what is best for their parent. Emotions can run high, and there can be fierce fighting among siblings about what is best for Mom or Dad. Having a designated Health Care Surrogate established by the parent beforehand helps the family avoid all this strife.
4. Parents Can Protect Against One Child Controlling the Situation
In some situations, one child may attempt to control the entire situation of how to care for an aging parent, to the exclusion of their brothers and sisters, as well as other family members. This often happens when this child is in the position of caregiver for an elderly parent. Having an advance planning Health Care Surrogate naming more than one child as a HCS could keep the caregiving child from distancing other children from the parent and excluding them from important decisions about health care that may have to be made.
5. Financial Needs of Children for Contributing to Care Can Be Evaluated
Health Care Surrogates can also help in decision making that involves financial considerations. Parents can instruct the HCS in advance how they wish to have finances impact future health care decisions as well as applying for public assistance benefits (i.e. VA benefits or Medicaid).
6. Parents Can Decide How Best to Share Caregiving Among Loved Ones
Health Care Surrogates will be able to help ease the burden on children and family members who are trying to deal emotionally with the decline of their parent by freeing the children to love and comfort and enjoy their remaining time with their parent without the details and stresses of determining their shared health care responsibilities. HCS decisions can be made with the parent’s preferences for how children are to participate in care-taking of the parent, such as whether or not the parent will live in any particular child’s home or if they will stay in their own home with outside home health care support.
7. Surrogate Will Know How to Deal with Potential Situation of One or More Parents All Needing Care from Kids
Children may be facing the decline of more than one parent at the same time. Children may have parents that are both facing serious health issues. Children can face both Mom and Dad having health care needs simultaneously. Having a HCS in place in advance helps ease the burden here on everyone involved.
8. Treatment Choices Can Be Communicated by the Parent In Case They Can’t Do It in the Future
Health Care Surrogates will be able to act with an understanding of what the patient wants to have for medical treatment because they will have instructions in advance from a parent long before the need to address decisions on medical care for a parent incapacitated in some way, e.g. in a coma or with advanced dementia.
9. End of Life Decisions Can Be Clarified By the Parent Now
Health Care Surrogates will be able to act in accordance with the parent’s wishes when the time comes for end of life decisions, such as experimental procedures or removal of a feeding tube for someone deemed to be brain dead by their physicians.
10. If Your Parents Don’t Decide on Surrogate Now, the Court May Decide for Them
Parents who have the foresight to appoint a Health Care Surrogate not only protect their family in the future, they also protect their own desires and preferences for what their future decisions should be. Absent making this appointment, parents may face a Florida probate judge making this appointment for them. This person may be trusted by the judge, but this court-appointed HCS will never have an in-depth understanding of the parent’s wants as someone who was personally appointed first-hand by that parent.