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I am a 63-year-old, single woman who needs to get her estate documents in order and I want to have a health care surrogate to make my end of life decisions if I am incapacitated. However, I am concerned about burdening my two sisters with that responsibility. Is it ok to appoint an outsider as a health care surrogate, and if so should I appoint a professional or a friend?

I congratulate you for taking the time now to consider how you want your medical care to be handled in critical situations. Making your wishes known in a living will and designating a healthcare surrogate who understands your wishes are essential steps in estate planning.

The job of a healthcare surrogate is to communicate your previously expressed instructions to medical care providers and advocate for you if necessary. That is why it is so important that your conversations with the surrogate are thorough and explicit.

I asked Sheryl Manning, an estate attorney in Miami, who she thinks would be the best choice for that responsibility.  She told me that typically it is an immediate family member, but she explained that it also might be a close friend or an extended family member;

“I often see an extended family member or friend chosen over immediate family in two situations: 1) the extended family member or friend is a doctor or nurse; or 2) the immediate family member being considered is highly emotional and may not be able to comfortably make a difficult decision, if necessary.”

Ms. Manning suggests that you weigh various attributes in deciding which route to take. She ranked the following as the most important for you to consider:

  • Close relationship with you
  • Decisive, cool-headed
  • Medical training
  • Past experience as a Health Care Surrogate

I know how difficult this decision can be. But don’t let this deter you from completing your estate planning.