People often think about their estate plan as a way to protect their financial wishes and maximize gifts to beneficiaries when they pass away. However, there is another critical element of an estate plan: the nomination of a health care agent.

A health care agent has the power to make medical decisions on behalf of someone else. Appointing this person in conjunction with an advance care directive is a critical component of an estate plan for various reasons.

Medical agent responsibilities

Your medical agent has the legal authority to make healthcare-related decisions for you when you can no longer make or communicate them on your own. It is not a role to take lightly. Depending on any restrictions or allowances you make in your health care directive, your agent can:

  • Continue or discontinue life-sustaining treatments
  • Demand or withhold life-saving medical care
  • Make decisions on mental health treatments
  • Decide where you receive care (g., in-home, hospice, nursing home, etc.)
  • Select your doctors and other care providers
  • Access your medical records
  • Donate your organs
  • Decide on cremation or burial

The exercise of this authority can have a profound impact on your health, and the decisions your health care agent makes will affect your loved ones, as well. As such, you must be sure that the person you put in this role is someone you trust to make critical – and often difficult – decisions.

Naming your agent

You are free to choose whomever you’d like to be your medical decision-maker, so long as that person is at least 18 years old. People often select a spouse, partner, parent, adult child, or close sibling. However, you could also choose a friend who has a medical background or someone else you trust to make these weighty decisions.

Even if you are healthy or young, it can be crucial for you to have guidance in place for whom you want to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. If you do not do this, your care, quality of life and legacy could be in the hands of people you may not know or trust.