What is a Health Care Proxy?

A Health Care Proxy is a document, which allows an individual to appoint someone to make health care decisions for them in the event that the person executing the document is unable to make decisions for him or herself.  Other terms for Health Care Proxies are Living Wills, Advanced Directives, or Do Not Resuscitate Orders.

Elements of a Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy should contain the following information; name and address of the agent, name and address of an alternate agent; duration of the proxy if applicable; special instructions that may broaden or limit the powers of the agent; (for instance, whether or not blood transfusions or feeding tubes should be used or extra ordinary measures of life support) name, date and signature of the primary individual, and instructions on tissue or organ donation.

Who can be a Health Care Agent?

The health care agent is the person appointed to exercise health care decisions for the individual who is the subject of the health care proxy.  The health care agent, must be 18 years old or older, and of sound mind and judgment.  It is usually recommended that the agent be someone who is close to and trusted by the primary individual.

Who should not be a Health Care Agent?

Generally speaking it is not wise to appoint a treating physician or a health care facility in which a person is getting treatment as a health care agent because of the potential for conflicts of interest between professional or business interests and the personal wishes of the person needing or refusing treatment.  When choosing an agent, the agent should not have financial interests that would conflict with the wishes of the person for whom they are acting.

Limitations and Powers of a Health Care Agent?

The health care agent is not empowered until a doctor determines that the patient is unable to make decisions regarding their health care.  The agent can remove or sustain feeding tubes if those are the only things keeping the patient alive.  If the health care proxy is specific about what the agent can or cannot do, the agent and hospital is bound by those directives regardless of any objections the agent may have.  The agent is not legally or financially responsible for decisions made for the patient as long as they take into accounts the individual’s wishes and beliefs.

Why execute a health care proxy?

The major benefit of the health care proxy is that it prevents conflicts between relatives of an individual when the individual can no longer make decisions.  It also relieves the family of the emotional and financial stress of long-term care or life or death decisions during an already difficult period.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

There are many boiler plate forms available for Health Care Proxies, however if your situation has special circumstances, or religious concerns, or just to be sure that the document is executed properly, legal assistance is advisable.  Most attorneys will include the living will as a part of a package if you are also executing a will.  For more information and advice, contact an Estate Planning Lawyer.

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