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How to choose an effective patient advocate

Although it is often difficult to think about, it important to think about planning for times when it might be impossible for a person to make decisions for himself or herself. These important decisions might relate to financial matters, personal lives and possessions or medical care. Conflicts between family members over how these decisions will be made can often arise, even though it might be the last thing that a person would want. Creating a health care power of attorney before such a situation arises can help prevent a range of problems and ensure that a person's wishes are carried out, at least with regard to medical care.

Many people assume that creating a living will enable them to make decisions-in advance-about the medical care and treatment measures that they will receive if they become incapacitated. However, Michigan law does not recognize a living will. People who want to ensure that their medical wishes are carried out in the event that they are unable to make the decisions themselves need to designate a person to serve as their patient advocate through the execution of a health care power of attorney. This kind of power of attorney is a legal document that gives a third party the legal authority to make decisions related to medical care on another person's behalf.

When drafting a health care power of attorney, they first thing to consider is who will serve as the patient advocate. It is often important to choose at least two people, the primary advocate and a back-up, in case the first choice is not available when needed. There are often state requirements regarding who can serve as a patient advocate or legal representative. In most cases, the advocate should not be a health care provider, a spouse, an employee or relative of an employee, a person with financial responsibility for your care, a person who has been court-appointed to provide care or a person who already serves in such a capacity for several other people.

A patient advocate should be willing to discuss the person's wishes, understand his or her medical care desires and follow through with carrying out those wishes. Generally, the advocate should be located in close proximity to the person in order to be quickly available when needed. The advocate also should be highly trustworthy and able to deal with conflicting pressures from family members, who may believe that their wishes are the ones that should be carried out.

Source: American Bar Association, "Giving Someone a Power of Attorney For Your Health Care," The Commission on Law and Aging American Bar Association, accessed Aug. 10, 2014

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