The Blended Family: Who is your Health Care Surrogate?
October 19th, 2016
Ultimately, you have the right to decide what type of health care you would like to receive. You also have the right to decide whom you want to make these decisions. Blended families present some unique challenges in these situations. To help that, consider now about the future and use your ingenuity to keep things going smoothly in choosing your health care surrogate.
Choosing a Health Care Surrogate
Selecting a health care surrogate, sometimes called a health care proxy, is a key part of your estate planning. This durable power of attorney for health care lets you appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions if you are unable to make them yourself. This person will communicate with physicians to learn about your condition, understand the prognosis, and evaluate potential treatment options. Your health care surrogate can enforce what you have stated in your living will and make sure that all decisions are based on your wishes and personal beliefs.
Selecting a Health Care Surrogate
Members of blended families sometimes need to make special considerations when selecting a health care surrogate. In the midst of a situation when your surrogate needs to speak for you, you can avoid confusion or disagreement over who has the authority to speak for you by planning in advance.
An adult child and your current spouse are two of the most likely candidates. You may end up naming one of them as your primary decision maker and the other as an alternate. Even so, important members of your family might be surprised by your choice. To avoid conflict and confusion, talk to the people you love about your wishes and tell them why you selected a particular person. If your selected child lives far away, he or she may not be able to take time that could be needed to be present during a health concern. An explanation can help everyone understand your choice.
Not only can talking to those you do not select answer questions in advance and reduce friction, but a conversation with the the person you choose is important too. This person (and those named as alternates) must feel comfortable making decisions for you. He or she should also be familiar with your wishes and beliefs regarding invasive treatment, pain management, and life support. You can make things easier by explaining your wishes in detail and in writing.
The planning process is particularly challenging when children, second or subsequent spouses, and parents have different views about the care that you should receive. Spelling out your wishes helps reduce potential conflicts and arguments. Be as specific as you can.
Potential Health Care Pitfalls for Blended Families
It is critical to consider what might happen if you are unwell. You probably don't want to think about certain things or believe that they could happen. But you still need to plan for them. When a stepparent has a medical power of attorney and broad decision-making authority, that person can make things difficult for children from a previous marriage. Inadequate health care and estate planning can tear a family apart. Some people go as far as preventing stepchildren from visiting a sick parent, failing to notify family members of an illness, and barring them from the funeral. Including specific instructions in your estate plan can help prevent these unfortunate conflicts. You should make sure to update these documents to reflect your current situation.
Making a Plan
The best plans are clear and concise, and they give each person a defined role. Your initial discussions might be difficult, but the results can be well worth it. When the key members of your family are aware of your wishes, you help avoid conflicts. You will have already made some of the toughest decisions.
If you are ready to create a plan for your health care decisions, contact an estate planning attorney.