Who Do You Trust to Be Your Health Care Proxy?

It’s true – estate planning is not the most thrilling topic to tackle as an adult. Pondering your own mortality and wondering how your loved ones would navigate a world without you is unnerving and a little frightening. But not having an estate plan is much worse. And you need more than just a will or trust to make sure your assets and family are protected in the event of your incapacity or death. One of the most critical documents in every estate plan is a Health Care Proxy

Who—or What—is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy is a document that gives a trusted individual the authority to make certain medical decisions for you when a doctor has determined that you are incapacitated (unable to make and communicate your preferences regarding medical care). The health care proxy names your health care agent—the individual you trust making medical decisions for you. You can give your health care agent broad powers to make almost any decision possible, or limit the authority to a specific part of your health. Spouses often designate each other as health care agents and then name a backup in case their spouse is not available. Unmarried individuals can name a parent, sibling, partner, or friend. Your agent needs to be at least 18 years old and someone you trust implicitly. 

What is the Purpose of a Health Care Proxy?

With all the modern advancements in medicine and technology, situations where someone is alive but cannot speak or communicate are not uncommon. In these circumstances, how do doctors and medical staff know the patient’s wishes when it comes to life-sustaining treatments and procedures? One solution is to name a health care agent in a health care proxy. 

When Does a Health Care Proxy Come into Play?

A doctor has the authority to declare you incapacitated. When this happens, the medical team will rely on your agent when important decisions need to be made. For example, your agent can direct your doctor to put you on an intravenous line or artificial breathing machine. Another important function of your health care agent is to request and review confidential medical documents that may help the agent arrive at optimal decisions. 

The default health care proxy form in New York allows your agent to make almost all medical decisions for you. You do, however, have the option of tailoring this form to whittle this authority down. Additionally, the default form does not allow your agent to end artificial nutrition or hydration; this must be added on as an additional item. An attorney can help you draft your health care proxy so it reflects your wishes and preferences in various circumstances. 

Next Steps

Having conversations about health care can be uncomfortable, but the end result is certainty and peace of mind. When you are ready to begin planning, your first call should be to a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney who can help you navigate these difficult issues. Start by scheduling your Peace of Mind Planning Session with attorney Laura Cowan. We will look at your current plan, or, if you don’t have one, the State of New York’s default plan for your family and assets. Then, if you’d like to see something different, we’ll talk about how we can help you get that in place. Even if you decide not to move forward with us, you’ll leave your Planning Session more clear than ever about what you really need – and really don’t need – to protect your family and assets. Mention this article and we will waive the $450 session fee.

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The Law Office of Laura E. Cowan, PLLC

Attorney Laura Cowan’s estate planning practice focuses on helping individuals and families make important decisions today to avoid unnecessary pain and conflict tomorrow.

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