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What is a Healthcare Proxy?

A healthcare proxy is a legal document designating a person to act as your representative and make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you can no longer make those decisions.

Healthcare proxy refers to both the legal document and the individual selected. This is a type of advance health directive and can sometimes be referred to as a healthcare power of attorney .

Healthcare proxies only take effect when you require medical treatment, and the treating doctor determines that you cannot communicate your wishes regarding treatment. The person you designate as your proxy has the power to make all the decisions on your behalf.

Your healthcare proxy could potentially be making life-and-death decisions for you, so this person should be aware of your healthcare wishes and your religious beliefs.

The proxy you select as you can make many critical medical decisions on your behalf and engage in the following activities:

  • Speaking with your doctors
  • Preventing or approving treatment or surgeries
  • Whether to use artificial hydration and nutrition
  • Decisions about organ donation
  • Choice of healthcare facility
  • Release of medical records

You can appoint anyone as your healthcare proxy, like a family member or friend, and you can revoke the healthcare proxy at any time. Healthcare proxy documents also allow you to name a second person as the backup proxy if the primary proxy cannot fulfill their duties.

It is important to remember that your healthcare proxy can only make medical decisions on your behalf. Your healthcare proxy cannot make decisions regarding finances or paying bills. For this, you will have to appoint someone as your power of attorney .

Laws surrounding healthcare proxies vary by state, so it is important to speak to an experienced family lawyer familiar with state laws when choosing your health proxy and drafting the healthcare proxy document.

For more information about healthcare proxies, click here.

Purpose of a Healthcare Proxy

The primary purpose of a healthcare proxy is to ensure that in the event you are incapacitated, someone you trust is carrying out your wishes regarding medical treatment. Appointing a healthcare proxy is a personal decision, and people choose to have or not have a proxy for many different reasons.

For some people, a healthcare proxy provides them with the comfort of knowing that someone they trust will make good decisions on their behalf in the event they cannot make their own medical decisions.

If a person is terminally ill, they can rest easier knowing that they will be cared for by someone who has their best interests at heart. This can be comforting for those suffering from life-threatening illnesses and facing an uncertain future.

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How Healthcare Proxies Work

A health care proxy, sometimes called a medical power of attorney, allows you to designate someone you trust to express your wishes and make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself.

You do not have to be terminally ill or even elderly to create a healthcare proxy. A proxy will only make treatment decisions on your behalf after being determined by a doctor that you are unable to communicate your wishes. Some states require that a doctor certifies that you are incapacitated for the proxy to take over decision-making.

Within the healthcare proxy document, you can grant your proxy specific permissions and place restrictions on their power. Your proxy should be fully aware of the following information about you:

  • Your beliefs regarding health, illness, and death
  • Your medical treatment preferences like life-sustaining care and comfort care
  • Religious beliefs
  • Feelings towards doctors, caregivers, and hospitals

It is common to have both a living will and a healthcare proxy. Your proxy can use the living will as a guide to making decisions on your behalf. Depending on your state, sometimes health care proxies will be combined with a living will into one advance directive document.

Click here to continue reading about how healthcare proxies work, specifically in New York State.

Healthcare Proxy vs. Power of Attorney

A healthcare proxy and a medical power of attorney are essentially the same thing, and these two titles are often used interchangeably. Both legal documents are medical advance directive documents that allow the person of your choosing to make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated.

However, a general power of attorney differs from a healthcare proxy in that it allows the named individual to manage various areas of your life in the event you can no longer do so for yourself.

If you name someone your general power of attorney, that person can have the following capabilities:

  • Conducting business and financial transactions
  • Purchasing life insurance
  • Settling claims
  • Operating business interests.

Examples of When You May Need a Healthcare Proxy

Most people only consider healthcare proxies when they are elderly or have a terminal illness; however, anyone can and should have a healthcare proxy in place. You never know when a tragic accident could leave you incapacitated and needing medical care.

Some other situations that prompt the naming of a healthcare proxy include:

  • Being diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness
  • Reaching a certain age where illnesses may be more prevalent
  • Drafting or editing your will and other advance directive documents
  • After seeing your doctor for a routine visit

Check out this article for frequently asked questions about healthcare proxies.

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How To Get a Healthcare Proxy

It is a simple process to appoint a healthcare proxy, but each state will have its own laws governing the process. Most states, however, follow these basic steps:

Step 1: Fill out a healthcare proxy form that includes information like your name, date of birth, and the date the agreement is being made.

Step 2: Choose the person you wish to be appointed as your healthcare proxy.

Step 3: Add any stipulations or special requests like a DNR or denial of life-extending interventions. You can also limit your proxy’s authority or grant certain powers.

Step 4: Sign the healthcare proxy form and have it notarized. Some states will also require the signature of a witness.

Picking the person to name your healthcare proxy is a big decision, and you should keep the following things in mind when selecting someone for this very important role:

  • Who is willing and able to make decisions about your health?
  • Who will advocate for you in the event you are incapacitated?
  • Always let the person know they are listed as your healthcare proxy
  • Provide your proxy with as much information about your wants and needs as possible

People often select a close family member as their healthcare proxy, but you can choose anyone to act as your proxy.

After you have notified the person you chose to act as your healthcare proxy, you should have a long detailed discussion about your medical wishes.

Here are four questions that you should go over with your proxy:

  1. What care and treatment would you want if you were terminally ill?
  2. What would you want if you suffered brain damage or were in a coma and were not expected to recover?
  3. Do you want to be on life support like a respirator or a feeding tube?
  4. What would you want if you couldn’t live on your own without depending on other people?

These are only a few questions to get you started. You can find checklists online with decisions to discuss or speak to a family attorney or probate attorney about other choices that should be considered.

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