Health Care Proxy in New York: What is it and do I need one?

Health Care Proxies can help better ensure your health care wishes are met in the event of incapacitation.

Health Care Proxies are legal documents that allow for an individual to appoint another to make health care decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacitation. Without this document, there is no control over health care decision made on your behalf when you are unable to communicate your wishes.

These documents are beneficial in many scenarios, including accidents or illnesses that result in a lack of consciousness, an unexpected outcome while undergoing a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia or the development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the reason for the inability to make your own medical decision, the document does not become effective until a doctor decides that you are unable to make your own heath care decisions.

New York state law and Health Care Proxies

The New York Health Care Proxy Law legalizes the use of these documents in the state. The individual that is appointed to make health care decisions on behalf of the creator is referred to as the "agent." This person can be a loved one, family member, friend or any other person over the age of 18. If a spouse is used and a divorce occurs at a later date, the document is generally invalidated unless language within the proxy specifically states otherwise.

The creator of this document is able to provide the appointed agent with as little or as much power as the creator would like. If the creator wishes to limit these powers, limitations must be specifically included within the form. Without the inclusion of limitations, the form provides the appointed agent with the ability to make all health care decisions, including consent or refusal of life-sustaining treatment options. Examples of limitations can include specific instructions about receiving or withholding artificial respiration and the use of a feeding tube. The creator can also put an expiration date on the form or change the agent at any time.

Importance of legal counsel

The Health Care Proxy is just one legal tool that can help better ensure your wishes are followed in the event of incapacitation. A living will is also beneficial. This document can be used to provide specific instructions on the types of health care decisions you wish to be made on your behalf.

Additional documents are also needed to address finances and assets in these situations. As a result, it is wise to contact an experienced estate planning attorney. This legal professional can review your unique situation and discuss all available legal tools that can be used to help better ensure your wishes are met.