When you create a living will or other advance directive for health care or mental health treatment, it’s crucial to designate what Kentucky calls a “health care surrogate.” It’s also wise to name an alternate surrogate. Their authority applies if you’re unconscious or otherwise incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself.
Under Kentucky law, a health care surrogate has the authority to receive information about your condition and care. They also have the authority to make decisions on your behalf. However, those decisions need to conform with what you have detailed in your living will or other advance directive.
Key qualities of a good surrogate
Choosing a health care surrogate requires careful thought. You want someone who:
- Knows you well and understands your values
- Is responsible and will be available, even if by phone or video conference, when needed
- Can remain calm and level-headed in a crisis
- Is not easily intimidated by doctors or others in authority and not afraid to speak up and ask questions
- Can be reassuring with family members yet not be swayed into doing something they know you wouldn’t want
Often people choose their spouse for this role, which makes sense. However, if you do, you should still codify that choice so that if there’s any dispute about care, your family will know that you wanted your spouse to have the final say.
If you choose your spouse, it’s especially important to choose an alternate. Often spouses end up in accidents together, so your spouse might not be in any condition to be your surrogate after a devastating car crash or other event.
Talk things over with your chosen surrogates before you codify their role
It’s important to make sure that whomever you choose is comfortable with your wishes for end-of-life care. For example, one of the things you should designate is under what circumstances you want life-prolonging measures ended. The same is true for your alternate. It’s a good idea if they both have a copy (or know how to access a copy) of your directive.
Even if you’re not ready to create a full estate plan, if you’re an adult of any age, you should have the documents in place that will allow your wishes to be known and followed if you become seriously injured or ill. Having sound legal guidance can help you do this efficiently and correctly.