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What is a health care proxy and why should you have one?

Do you know what will happen to you if you become incapacitated? What type of medical care will you receive and who will be responsible for making decisions for your care? These are important questions to answer before it’s too late.


How does a health care proxy work?

A health care proxy is a legal document in New York that will help you answer these questions. A health care proxy is necessary to have in your estate plan or on its own to ensure your wishes are followed in the event you cannot make health care decisions on your own.

The document will name someone as your health care agent. This person is responsible for making medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated. You can list an alternate agent as a backup in case the first named agent is unable to serve.

Questions to ask when creating your health care proxy

Your health care proxy can include your specific wishes for medical care. It can also put limitations on what decisions your health care agent can and cannot make. While you may not be able to address all scenarios that could result in needing a health care agent to make medical decisions for you, you should consider the following situations and the type of treatment you would prefer when discussing your health care proxy with your lawyer:

  • What type of care would you want to receive if you could not live on your own?
  • What treatment would you want to receive if you were in a coma or suffered brain damage?
  • How long would you want to stay on life support?
  • Do you have any restrictions for resuscitation, mechanical ventilation or tube feeding?
  • Do you have any specific requests for comfort (palliative care)?

Your health care proxy can be as specific as you want it to be. Once you have your health care proxy, keep the original somewhere safe and give copies to your physician, health care agent and any alternative agents. It is also helpful to discuss your wishes with your family.

Like any estate planning document, you should review and update your health care proxy as necessary with the help of your attorney. While this may not be an easy topic to discuss, planning for the future will go a long way in protecting your wishes and legacy.

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