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New Health Care Surrogate Laws Remind Us How Important Having One Can Be

When we think of estate planning, we tend to think of planning for all of our stuff, and specifically who will get it, how will it be spent, and where will it go. But many people give little thought to planning for disability, or for health problems that may render them unable to tend to their own affairs.

Health Care Surrogates

Florida has long allowed people to designate a health care surrogate. Designating a surrogate allows that person to make critical medical decisions in the event that you are unable to do it for yourself. It may, for example, allow someone to opt or decline surgery for you, choose what medicine will be given to you, or decide whether life support will be withdrawn.

Surrogates can be invaluable, whether a medical condition is permanent and terminal, or whether it’s temporary, such as someone who may be in a coma following an accident. And in family situations where there may be disagreement amongst family members—for example, adult sons with differing religious views, or a biological child who may disagree with a step-parent—designating one person to make the decisions is almost a must.

New Laws Are Coming

Traditionally, a surrogate could only act if you were determined to be incapacitated. But starting October 1, the law is changing, and a surrogate can act immediately, prior to a determination of incapacity. So for example, if someone is rushed to the emergency room, and a formal designation of incapacity can’t be made, the designated surrogate can make decisions immediately.

Another change is that a parent can name a surrogate for a minor child other than themselves, in the event that they cannot act (for example, as horrible as it may be, where parents and child are in a car accident, and the parents pass away, but the child is alive, but incapacitated). It can also be used for mere unavailability—if a child was rushed to the ER, and the parents couldn’t be reached, the hospital could contact the other surrogates to make immediate medical decisions about the child’s treatment.

A designation of surrogacy needs to be signed by the principle, with two independent witnesses signing. At least one witness needs to be unrelated to the principal.

A designation of health care surrogate is not the same thing as a living will. A living will allows you to make decisions about whether you will be revived, or whether a DNR order will issue. It allows you to tell others how you want to be treated in such situations. You would still need a surrogate to make medical decisions for you in the course and scope of your treatment.

Surrogates and their designations can be revoked, so it’s always better to have one and change it later, than to have none. They’re things that you and your family will be glad you have if you ever need it.

Plan for your health, your peace of mind, and that of your family–not just for your material items. Contact Tampa business and probate attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and make sure you understand how to best plan all areas of your estate.

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