There may come a time when you are unable to make and communicate competent health care decisions for yourself due to an injury or illness. You can prepare for this eventuality by designating someone to make decisions on your behalf regarding your care. This person is your health care surrogate.

According to University of Florida Health, your doctor has the responsibility to choose a decision-maker for you from an approved list if you have not designated a surrogate beforehand. Possible surrogates include close family members such as your spouse, your parents or your adult children, as well as other relatives and friends. If none of these are available, the responsibility may go to a hospital social worker. You can prevent this by designating your own surrogate ahead of time.

How do you designate a health care surrogate?

A Designation of Health Care Surrogate form gives your designee the necessary authorization. In addition to signing and dating the form, you must also have two witnesses. Only one witness can be a relation, including a spouse, and your designated surrogate cannot also be a witness.

Whom can you choose as a surrogate?

Your surrogate must be at least 18 years old and competent to make decisions on your behalf. Otherwise, there are very few restrictions. You should ask your chosen surrogate if he or she is willing to take on the responsibility before making the designation. If he or she is willing to serve in that capacity, you should discuss your wishes with him or her so that he or she can make informed decisions about your health care as necessary.

Your first choice as a surrogate may be unwilling to take on the responsibility or unavailable should the need arise. Therefore, it may be wise to designate an alternate health care surrogate as a backup. A local estate planning attorney can be a resource for other questions that may arise that are specific to your own situation.