A health care proxy is a legal document that gives another person the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make or state your own decisions and wishes. It allows medical professionals to follow the instructions of a third party even if the law would not otherwise allow it.
Sometimes a health care proxy is called a durable medical power of attorney. It is not the same document as a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person authority to manage your financial affairs.
We advise including both documents in your estate plan. Let’s take a look at the reasons why you should have a health care proxy.
Ease the Burden for Family or Friends
In advance of a serious injury or illness, you may assume that your family or friends understand your wishes about medical treatment, life support, feeding tubes, and other major procedures. In many instances, however, a person’s wishes may not be known, putting loved ones in the often difficult position of making such decisions for you—or having debates about what you would want. Further, even if they do understand your wishes, your treating doctors may not legally be allowed to follow their instructions. Setting up a health care proxy can eliminate these concerns.
Give Legal Authority
Spouses or next of kin can generally make medical decisions without a health care proxy, but a more distant family member, friend, or unmarried partner wouldn’t be able to. Under the law, the person named in your health care proxy becomes the medical agent for you, the principal.
Be Prepared in Case of an Emergency
A health care proxy can cover what should happen in a medical crisis such as a sudden illness, car accident, or incapacitating injury. Surgery or other procedures that require anesthesia carry an element of risk. Having a health care proxy in place gives your loved ones a plan to follow in case decisions have to be made in case of an emergency.
Health care proxies are also essential legal documents for the elderly or those suffering long-term illnesses who may be losing mental capacity.
An elder law attorney can help you set up a health care proxy and make it part of your estate planning documents. Contact us today to get started.