Estate planning isn’t just about designating who will get your assets after you’re gone. It’s about designating trusted, responsible people to look out for your well-being if you become incapacitated.
That’s why it’s smart for all Tennessee adults to have an Advance Directive for Health Care and to designate someone to be their health care agent (proxy). That person needs to be given power of attorney over your health care.
What does an advance directive do?
In an advance directive, you list your wishes for life-prolonging treatment such as CPR, feeding tubes and breathing machines. You can also designate under what circumstances you want treatment ended. This is the “quality of life” section. You can further use the directive to state your wishes on things like hospice care and organ donation.
Having this directive will help guide your health care agent and your medical team if you’re seriously injured or ill and unable to speak for yourself. However, your selection of a health care agent is still crucial.
What to look for in a health care agent
Here are some things you want to consider before asking someone to take on this responsibility if it ever becomes necessary:
- Do they know you well and generally share your beliefs and values?
- Are they comfortable with your wishes as stated in your directive, and do they fully understand them?
- Do they remain calm and clear-headed in times of crisis?
- Can they listen closely and communicate effectively?
- Will they be unintimidated by doctors and relatives?
- Are they reliable and accessible so you can count on them to be there if needed?
Your agent doesn’t have to be a relative. An appropriately designated health care agent’s directions will take precedence over those of family members if that’s what you’ve chosen.
Even if you’re married, it’s wise to designate your spouse as your health care agent (assuming that’s what you want). This way, there’s a clear decision-maker. It’s also wise to have an alternate (particularly if your designated agent is your spouse, since married couples are often involved in accidents together).
Completing an Advance Directive for Health Care is never an enjoyable exercise. However, it gives you a chance to think about things that everyone should consider, like what makes life worth living. It’s wise to have estate planning guidance as you put the necessary documents in place to help ensure there’s no question of validity if they’re ever needed.