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When does a surrogate take over health care decisions?

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2024 | Health Care Surrogate |

A key part of estate planning in Florida is having a health care advance directive. This can give the person – known as the principal – control over who makes their health care decisions if they are incapacitated. The person making the decisions is known as the surrogate. This can ease the principal’s mind knowing they have someone of their choosing making crucial choices.

Still, there are often questions as to when the advance directive goes in effect. It can be confusing as to when a principal no longer has capacity to decide on their own how they will be cared for. Understanding the law in these matters is imperative as it will give a guideline as to when the surrogate takes over.

Know when the surrogate has authority over the principal

Until a physician or health care provider determines that the principal is no longer able to make their own health care decisions, they are still in control of their own affairs. If the principal understands and can take part in the treatment program, they will not be declared incapacitated.

However, if their capacity is in question, the treating physician can seek input from a second physician to decide if they can make their own health care decisions or give informed consent. When they are deemed unable to do so, a surrogate designated to make those decisions will be placed in charge.

From that point on, the surrogate gets to make the health care decisions until the principal regains their capacity. If the surrogate is someone other than the principal’s spouse, they will immediately inform their spouse or adult children that they are now the health care surrogate. When the principal is declared capable of making their own decisions, these will take precedence over any decision the surrogate made if there is a conflict.

A health care advance directive is a significant responsibility

As this shows, the health care advance directive gives vast power to the surrogate once the principal is declared incapacitated. With that, it is essential to understand what the responsibility entails and to have a trustworthy person serve in the role. If there are questions, a desire to change an existing document or other areas of estate planning that need to be addressed, it is wise to act quickly and know the steps necessary to create a well-crafted document.