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When you name someone as your health care agent, you literally entrust them with life and death decisions. When you are the agent, the job can sometimes seem overwhelming. Sometimes health care decisions must be made by someone who was not even designated in a power of attorney. A “surrogate” decision maker is often empowered by state law to act when the patient has not made a specific choice. Few patients have had specific discussions with their agents about their health care wishes, and those who have not gotten around to signing advance directives are even less likely to have given any direction.

Although thousands of people make health care decisions for someone else every year, there is little help or direction available for the agent or surrogate. Here are a few suggestions for those making health care decision for someone else:

  • Talk to the person who has named you as agent about his or her wishes.
  • If you know you have been named as health care agent, ask for a copy of the power of attorney. It might include provisions that need to be clarified.
  • When you have to begin using the health care power of attorney, make sure you get all the information you need. Talk to doctors, nurses and caretakers.
  • If you don’t fully understand the procedure or test, tell the providers you need more information.
  • Remember that you are not applying your own standards to the decision, but those of the person for whom you are acting.

If you have elderly parents who are no longer able to make decisions, in that state-of-mind, they may not be able to do their own Medicaid planning, manage their own finances or make appropriate health care decision. You may need to seek guardianship.

Poserina & McHugh focus on Elder Law issues. Robert Poserina and Andrea McHugh can help guide you through the legal issues of Medicare/Nursing Home Planning, Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts, Guardianships, Powers of Attorney, Probate, Estate Administration, Estate Litigation and Contested Wills.  The office is located at 1029 Rt. 9 S., Cape May Court House. For more information, call (609) 463-8125 or visit

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