Healthcare Directives - Vero Beach Attorney Carolyn Butler Norton


Everyone has a fundamental right to control their own medical care. A competent adult has the right to make a written declaration directing the providing, withholding and withdrawal of life-prolonging procedures. This document, commonly called a Living Will, may direct that dying not be artificially prolonged in the event that you become terminally ill, have an end-stage condition, or are in a persistent vegetative state. Your Health Care Surrogate may rely upon this document to limit the scope of your medical treatment, including the withholding of tubes for food and water if such treatment is futile and against your wishes.

Florida Living Wills must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is neither the spouse nor a blood relative. It is a good idea to provide your doctor and local hospital with a copy of your Living Will. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also want to keep a copy in their files.


A Designation of Health Care Surrogate is a legal document that allows you to name a person to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated and are unable to make those decisions yourself. Your Health Care Surrogate has the duty to make health care decisions that he or she believes you would have made under the same circumstances had you been able to make them yourself. In situations where there is no indication of what decision you would have made, the Health Care Surrogate must consider your best interests in deciding what action to take.

When acting on your behalf, the Health Care Surrogate is entitled to consult with health care providers and to have access to relevant medical records needed to make informed consent for decisions on your behalf. The Health Care Surrogate also has the right to apply for private, government (Medicare and Medicaid), or Veterans benefits to defray the cost of health care. In addition, he or she may authorize the admission, discharge, or transfer to or from a health care facility, an assisted living facility or a nursing home, and may authorize care by a home health care agency. As stated above, your Health Care Surrogate may authorize or refuse to authorize life-prolonging procedures in accordance with the terms of your Living Will.

You can name an alternate or substituted Health Care Surrogate to act on your behalf in the event your Health Care Surrogate is unable or unwilling to act. The Health Care Surrogate document must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is neither a spouse nor a blood relative.

Health Care Directives have traditionally required the affidavit of the principal's treating physician in order for the named surrogate or agent to make medical decisions on behalf of the principal. Effective October 1, 2015, the health care surrogate law was amended to allow a person designated as a surrogate to act at any time, including while an adult is still competent and able to make his or her own decisions. The amendment addresses the problems that occur when a person vacillates in and out of competency, requiring numerous determinations of competency by their physician. In addition, some elderly persons feel more comfortable if another family member can assist them in the complex task of understanding health care treatments and procedures, and with making health care decisions. While competent, the decisions of the principal control over any contrary decisions of the surrogate. The amendment also creates a means for designating a health care surrogate for a minor when the parents or legal guardian cannot be timely contacted by a health care provider, or are unable to give consent.