May 11, 2024

What is Health Care Proxy?

By Geraldine

If you become seriously ill and unable to make decisions on your own, a health care proxy (also called durable power of attorney for health care) allows you to nominate an adult you trust as your agent for making medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent can decide what treatments are most suitable for you, when to cease life-prolonging procedures once certified as terminal by a doctor, access medical records and information if desired and even place restrictions on their powers through your proxy form.

Your healthcare agent should be someone who understands your wishes, and can carry them out swiftly under pressure during an emergency situation. Often this will be someone in your immediate family; but other trusted colleagues or friends might work well too. Before selecting someone as your agent, it’s wise to discuss any preferences they might have with you as well as any restrictions that would prevent them from following through such as religious belief or illness that could interfere.

Health care proxies only authorize agents to make medical decisions for you; they don’t give them control of financial decisions – for that, a power of attorney is needed. Without one in place, your healthcare provider may make decisions for you depending on state law.

Your health care proxy allows you to include a statement regarding organ and tissue donation. While this won’t alter your legal rights to donate after death, it will inform doctors and hospitals about your wishes in case of becoming incapacitated.

Maintaining a health care proxy and regularly revising it are two integral parts of planning ahead for medical treatments and wishes. The National Institute on Aging has an invaluable guide with conversation tips, worksheets and more that can help get the process underway.

When does a health care proxy take effect? The answer to this question varies by state. For example, in some states it only goes into effect once your physician certifies you as incapacitated while other states utilize health care proxies when admitting someone into hospital or nursing homes.

An health care proxy is an easy and essential way to plan for the future. Without one, your loved ones could have to guess at your wishes for care – which may lead to disputes among family members. Furthermore, failing to create one may force hospitals and others to look toward your closest biological relatives when making decisions regarding your care, which can be distressing and limit who can provide services – having such an official document in place should be an integral step taken by adults as they transition through adulthood.