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What is a health care proxy?

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2024 | Uncategorized

There may come a time in your life when you’re no longer able to act on your own behalf. Some people arrive at such a state quite suddenly, perhaps after suffering a brain injury in a motor vehicle collision. Others develop neurodegenerative conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. You might become incapacitated through another type of situation, as well, such as an illness. In any event, if you have a health care proxy in place, then the person you have listed as your agent can make decisions in your stead. 

A health care proxy is a legal document. Many people incorporate such documents into their estate plans. You may have heard of this document by another name, such as durable medical power of attorney. Signing a health care proxy ensures that someone you trust will act on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your wishes.  

Choose your health care proxy carefully 

Just because a particular individual happens to be a close family member or friend, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she would make a good proxy. It’s best to have a thorough discussion with the person you have in mind ahead of time. Make sure they know how you feel about medical issues, especially those that are relevant to end-of-life care. You should feel confident that the person you choose will make decisions in accordance with what you would want, not what they want.  

You will want to let your proxy know how you feel about important issues, such as palliative care, artificial nutrition, ventilators and more. It’s also best to share your feelings about dying. If you have certain religious beliefs or feel strongly that you would want or not want a particular type of medical treatment, let your feelings be known ahead of time. 

Using a living will to help a proxy make decisions 

You can address many of the issues mentioned in the previous section in a living will, sometimes called an “advance directive.” If you have one in place, your health care proxy can carefully review it, which will help him or her make decisions in the case of incapacitation.  

Naming a secondary agent  

There’s always a possibility that the individual you name as a health care proxy might die or become incapacitated. For this reason, it is wise to name a secondary agent in your health care proxy document. This person would take over as proxy if the primary agent is unable to fulfill the duty. If there is no health care proxy, either because you didn’t sign the document or your primary agent cannot fulfill the duty and there is no secondary agent listed, then the state determines who will make decisions on your behalf.