Health Library

Your Health Care Agent: How to Choose Someone

Overview

A health care agent is someone you choose in advance to make health care decisions for you if you can't speak for yourself. A health care agent also may be called a health care proxy or a health care surrogate. This person may be called something else in your state.

Who can be a health care agent?

For your health care agent (health care proxy, health care surrogate), you may choose:

  • Your partner.
  • A child or grandchild.
  • Another family member.
  • A close friend.
  • An attorney.

Most states allow you to choose only one person at a time to be your health care agent. In most cases, your doctor cannot be your health care agent. In some states, a person who works at the health care facility where you might be treated may not be your agent, unless you are related to the person by blood or by marriage.

If your state allows, choose one or two alternate agents who can fill the role if your primary agent is not available or is not able to do so.

How do you choose someone?

Choose your health care agent (health care proxy, health care surrogate) carefully. You can choose a family member or someone else. Talk to the person before you decide. Make sure the person is comfortable with this responsibility.

It's a good idea to choose someone who:

  • Is at least 18 years old.
  • Is someone you trust.
  • Knows you well and understands what makes life meaningful for you.
  • Understands your religious and moral values.
  • Will honor your wishes and do what you want, not what they want.
  • Will be able to make hard choices at a stressful time.
  • Will be able to refuse or stop treatment, if that's what you would want, even if you might die.
  • Will be assertive with doctors if needed.
  • Will be able to ask questions of doctors and others to get the information needed to make decisions.
  • Lives near you or will travel to you if needed.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: October 18, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Jean S. Kutner MD, MSPH - Geriatric Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Robin L. Fainsinger MBChB, LMCC, CCFP - Palliative Medicine