Understanding that the risks for health conditions, accidents and injuries increase as people age, you naturally want to make sure that you understand your parents’ wishes regarding their health care and other end-of-life matters. You should know where they keep their advance directives so that you can produce them in an emergency, even if you are not the person designated to make decisions.

If your parents have not completed the official documents, this conversation could be the first step in the process.

The advance directive

Your parents’ advance directives name the people who they choose to make their health care decisions in the case of incapacitation. The advance directive also includes a living will, in which they state their instructions regarding which life-prolonging procedures they want and which they do not want. Knowing this information may give both you and them peace of mind.

The state’s authorization

Explain to your parents that if they become incapacitated and they have not named someone to make their health care decisions on their behalf, the state of Florida has a list of people with this authority, in order of priority. The task falls to the first person in the priority list who is available, willing and able to take on the decision-making role.

First, a spouse has that responsibility. If not the spouse, then the adult children are next. If they disagree, then the decision rests with the agreement of the majority of them. Parents, siblings and adult relatives are next, in that order. The adult relative should be one who has a close relationship with the patient. If no relative is available, a close friend may make the life-or-death decisions for your parents. A social worker may have to make the decisions if no one else can speak for your parents.