If you’re ever at a point in your life where you can’t express what your wishes or desires are as far as your healthcare decisions, you would need a healthcare proxy document. These documents name someone as your agent or proxy. You’re essentially designating a power of attorney or a surrogate for your health care who can communicate for you if there are decisions to be made regarding care or treatment.
The objective of having a healthcare proxy is to ensure you’re getting the treatment you want, even if you can’t convey those wants at the given time.
The following are five more specific things to know about healthcare proxies.
1. What Is It?
A healthcare proxy is a document naming someone you trust to be your agent to make healthcare decisions and convey your wishes if you can’t speak for yourself. You’ll hear this document called a durable medical power of attorney or an appointment of a health care surrogate or health care agent.
You don’t have to have a terminal illness to designate a proxy on your behalf. Your proxy could make decisions for you even with a temporary illness or injury, as well as one expected to be permanent.
In many cases, a doctor has to certify someone is incapacitated before a proxy can start making decisions. You may have to give this person access to health records and information, depending on what permissions you give them. If you want to restrict the abilities or what a proxy can see of your records, you can include these limitations in your proxy document.
2. Choosing a Proxy
As you might imagine, choosing a health care proxy is a big decision. You want someone who has similar beliefs or attitudes as your own toward illness, health, death, and dying. You want someone who understands your attitudes about medical treatment preferences, your religious beliefs, and your general feelings about care providers.
You could include this information in a living will, and if needed, your proxy can use that document as a way to make decisions for you.
A lot of states will combine a proxy and a living will into a single advanced directive document.
You can change your proxy at any time, and if you regain decision-making ability, you can once again speak for yourself.
As long as you trust someone and they’re at least 18, they can be your proxy.
3. The Risks of Not Having a Proxy
If you don’t have a healthcare proxy and you’re incapacitated for any reason, issues can arise. Your loved ones might have to go to court to get you the needed medical care, which takes a lot of time and can affect you in the near term. The court could appoint someone, including a stranger, who will make decisions for you. That’s why it’s a lot better to handle this ahead of time and choose someone you trust.
4. When a Proxy is in Effect
The laws of your state can determine when a healthcare proxy takes effect. In some states, the requirement is that two doctors confirm in writing a person can’t make decisions. In other states, it may be a single doctor or the treating doctor who makes the decision.
5. Getting a Proxy
There are a lot of ways to create a health care proxy. You can use a form specific to your state or go through an online legal service. You can also have a lawyer prepare a proxy, but you need to be aware of the laws in your state. Some states will require, for example, that you have two witnesses and that the proxy is notarized. Once you create the document, you should give a copy to your primary care provider, agent, hospital, and anyone else you think could be relevant.
Having a healthcare proxy is part of a complete estate plan.
You can name a backup, which is always a good idea in case the person you name can’t carry out their duties. Again, if you don’t have a proxy and potentially a backup, your state might be able to determine who can make your medical decisions. While most states will let close family members do it, you might not trust them to make your decisions. In some states, if you don’t have a proxy, the decisions are left to your doctors and the administrators of the hospital.
As you create a proxy, think about the treatments you don’t want to receive, your religious beliefs, and how you feel about life-saving treatments versus palliative care.