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Role of a Health Care Agent

What Is a Health Care Agent? 

A health care agent is a person who steps in to make health care choices for someone else. They usually only make these decisions if the patient is unable to do so.

As a health care agent, you might be called:

  • Representative
  • Proxy
  • Attorney-in-fact

Courts may appoint:

  • Guardian
  • Conservator
Rear back view of a mother and daughter embrace sitting on bed at home.

A health care agent is a person who steps in to make health care choices for someone else. They usually only make these decisions if the patient is unable to do so.

All these names mean the same thing when it comes to health care.

If your child has recently turned 18, they may need or want to appoint you as a health care agent. This will mean if they cannot make decisions you can step in and do so for them.

Laws about health care agents can vary depending on where you live. For example, different states may have different laws.

It is important to understand the health care laws in your state. If you have questions, talk to the care team.

Appointing a health care agent

Your child should put your information in a legal form that appoints the health care agent if they want you to act in this role.

If this option is not checked on the form, you can only act as a health care agent if medical staff members decide your child is not able to make their own decisions.

Your rights as a health care agent

As a health care agent, you have the right to:

  • Know as much as you can about your child’s health care and care options
  • Take part in planning your child’s care
  • Accept certain types of care and refuse certain types of care
  • Review your child’s medical records
  • You have the right to have medical records and other parts of their care kept private

Your responsibilities as a health care agent

You should carry out these rights in a caring, responsible way. 

  • Know your child’s wishes
  • Make decisions you think your child would make them if they could.

Get to know your child’s wishes

Take time to talk with your child about their:

If you must make these choices, you can know you are doing so with their desires in mind.

Consider:

  • Writing down what you talk about
  • Taping the conversation
  • Other legal avenues (like a living will or advance directive)

How your role may grow

You may play only a small role as health care agent. Your child might be able to understand some things but need help with others.

Your role may grow. You are encouraged to work with the care team to decide what your child needs and how to provide it.

These ideas may help you:

  • Prepare for meetings and phone calls. Write down your questions and take time to discuss them.
  • Listen carefully. Ask to go over things again if you don’t understand.
  • Speak up. Voice your thoughts if you do not agree. Remember to deal with issues now rather than later.

Challenges health care agents face

Sometimes there is no clear choice. That is when you must decide. Here are guidelines that can help you:

  • Follow your child’s wishes. Does your child have an advance directive? Did they explain to you what path they would choose?
  • Decide what you think is best if you do not know their wishes. Base your choice on your child’s best interests.
  • Take a close look at the pros and cons.
  • Use your own best judgment.

You can ask for help or advice from your care team if you need it. They can help explain risks, benefits, and options.

Key points

  • If your child recently turned 18, they may want to appoint you as a health care agent.
  • Names and rules for health care agents can vary based on where you live.
  • Health care agents make decisions for patients when they cannot make their own choices.
  • You should always consider your child’s wishes and best interests if you are acting as a health care agent.


Reviewed: March 2022