Very few doctors, nurses, or other health care personnel understand the interplay between the Illinois statutory advanced directives such as the Living Will, Power of Attorney for Health Care, and Do Not Resuscitate Order. When a person lacks effective advance directives, then a physician can trigger the Illinois Health Care Surrogate Act to create a decision-maker.
Unfortunately, many lawyers consider the health care power of attorney as a “throw-in” document in an estate plan. In reality, it’s important to consider the hidden definitions for terms used in the statutory advance directives and the Health Care Surrogate Act.
For example, a principal should be very careful when naming both primary agent and successor agents. Many clients seem to be willing to vest life-and-death authority in persons whom he/she knows are inappropriate. Individuals will put fear of causing offense within the family above their own welfare. We attorneys must point out that even a successor agent may come to hold your life in their hands if your best agent is “unavailable.” Even if an individual is a third or a fourth successor agent, if the higher-priority agents are unavailable, then whichever agent is available will make the final decision. An agent is considered “unavailable” if “the person’s existence is not known; the person has not been able to be contacted by telephone or mail.”
I recommend that attorneys add full contact information of agents into the Power of Attorney. This simple act makes it easier for health care providers to communicate with the highest priority agent during a time of crisis.