Your Healthcare Proxy, also known as Healthcare Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, or Medical Power of Attorney, is a person you designate to make medical care decisions on your behalf. They may also be your Financial Power of Attorney. Laws about healthcare proxies are contained in the 1993 Health-Care Decisions Act.
You should consider choosing your proxy at the same time you create your advance directives (i.e. soon after you have had the ‘Conversation’). Review your choice whenever you review or update your advance directives. If you do not choose one, the state may name a surrogate for you.
You should choose someone you know and trust who knows what you would want and is willing and capable of performing the duties. While this is usually a family member, you can choose a friend if you don’t think your family members could be objective or handle the responsibility. You cannot choose a medical professional involved in your care.
Before you appoint anyone you must go over the details of your wishes and what they are legally expected to do based on those wishes, be assured that they understand what is involved and will comply with your wishes, and be sure they can manage the responsibility without being swayed by emotion.
- Other important qualities include being able to:
- make decisions for you, even if their own wishes or preferences are different from yours;
- aggressively stand up for you under any circumstances;
- comfortably ask questions of busy doctors and other providers, as well as ask for clarification if the answer or situation isn’t understood; and/or
- make decisions in changing situations.
- You may consider not choosing a person who:
- has serious religious, spiritual, or intellectual objections to your wishes;
- is very indecisive or too timid to aggressively advocate for you;
- travels a lot or lives too far away, so may frequently be unavailable;
- would be unable or too quick to deny life-saving or to discontinue hopeless life-sustaining treatment; and/or
- would not work well with your Financial Power of Attorney (POA), since your financial POA would be responsible to pay for any medical treatment your medical POA authorizes.
- Since your healthcare proxy cannot transfer those powers to someone else, you should list alternates in case your first choice can no longer serve or is unavailable when they are needed.
To appoint a healthcare proxy, it is best to create a legal document, although some states allow you to do this in your Living Will. As with any legal document, it must be done correctly as the court can have the final say on whether it is valid or whether your agent is qualified.
You should keep the original in your files. Your proxy and primary care healthcare provider should have copies.
It would be best for your proxy if you make important medical decisions and record them in an advance directive to inform them or anyone else involved in your medical care about your preferences. If you don’t, your proxy or agent will have to make a decision based on their best judgement of what you would want.
The healthcare proxy’s role usually begins when you become incapable of making these decisions, but you can allow them to make decisions you could make but don’t want to. In cases of an inability to make decisions, your physician must certify that you are unable to make your own medical decisions. You can appoint one or more alternatives in case your first choice proxy is unavailable, but many states only allow you to one proxy at a time.
The role of your healthcare proxy is limited to those powers you specifically grant them. Possible responsibilities include:
- Learning about your medical condition and treatment options.
- Communicating with your family about your condition and treatment plan.
- Choosing medical care including medical tests, medications, surgery, or other procedures.
- The right to access and approve the release of your medical records, see medication lists and lab results, request refills and obtain prescriptions, and talk to medical providers about your care.
- The right to request or decline emergency and/or life-support treatments, usually based on your advance directives.
- Choosing pain management, sedation, and further treatment, including authorization or refusal of medication or procedures.
- Admitting or discharging you from an assisted living facility, hospital, hospice, or nursing home.
- Choices about who provides medical care and where to seek medical treatment, including the right to:
- ask for a change in healthcare providers;
- request and coordinate second opinions or outside medical care;
- move you to another facility, hospital, or state.; and/or
- take you home.
- The option to take legal action on your behalf in order to advocate for your health care rights and wishes, including getting court authorization if required to obtain or withhold medical treatment.
- The right to apply for Medicare, Medicaid, or other programs or insurance benefits on your behalf.
- Grant permission for organ donation, autopsies, or body donations, unless you have created specific documents to account for this.
- Knowing about your religious or spiritual values that will affect the types of care or treatments you would consent to receive.
As with all such documents, you should update the healthcare proxy document when circumstances change.
A divorce will automatically revoke your ex-spouses healthcare power of attorney. It is best to create a new one under these circumstances, even if you have named an alternate. You may want to do so before the divorce becomes final.
Even though you have written down your wishes, proxies occasionally choose not to comply with what you have declared in your advance directive. Whether or not they are legally allowed to authorize any action violating your wishes will vary by state. You may want to give them permission to if they strenuously object to the point they would experience guilt or other emotional distress.
- NY Department of Health video – Healthcare Proxy – Who Will Speak for You?
- What you should do if you are the proxy for someone else
- 3 Simple Steps to Pick a Health Care Proxy. Kiplinger website. Published: April 2015. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- 8 Reasons You Should Decline Being A Healthcare Proxy, everplans website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- All You Need To Know About Advance Directives. everplans website. Accessed: April 9, 2020.
- All You Need To Know About Naming A Health Care Proxy. eveplans website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- End-of-Life Decisions. National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization website. Updated 2016. Accessed: April 9, 2020.
- Fletcher C. 8 Estate Planning Moves If You Are Getting Divorced. Forbes website. Posted: June 19, 2019. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Health care proxies. Medicare Interactive website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- How To Be A Good Health Care Proxy. everplans website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- How To Choose A Health Care Proxy. everplans website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Irving S. Choosing Your Health Care Agent. NOLO website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Irving S. Living Wills and Powers of Attorney for Health Care. NOLO website. Accessed: April 9, 2020.
- Irving S. What Do a Living Will and Power of Attorney for Health Care Cover? NOLO website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives. American Bar Association website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Overview of living wills, health care proxies, advance directives, and powers of attorney. Medicare Interactive website. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Reslock D. Why You Need A Health Care Proxy And How To Choose One. Forbes website. Published: June 2, 2017. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
- Who Will Speak for You. The Conversation Project. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Accessed: April 13, 2020.
One end-of-life decision you might want to consider is if you wish to donate your organs after you die. If you do, make it part of the process when planning your advance directives and choosing your healthcare proxy. People often include this in their living will or allow their Healthcare Power of Attorney to make the decision. However, there are other things that can be done to accomplish this.
In most states you can indicate donor status on your driver’s license. Some states will let you indicate this on your license plate.
You can register with:
- American Society of Transplantation
- Donate Life America
- The Health Resources & Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
The organ recipient pays all the expenses associated with the donation.
- Organ Donation & Transplantation Resources for Older Donors and Recipients. National Institute on Aging website.
- Transplant Community Educational Materials. Power2Save website.