A healthcare proxy, also written as health care proxy, is a means to ensure that––in the event you become incapacitated––someone you trust carries out your wishes regarding medical treatment. This document is a great comforting tool that you can use, knowing someone you trust will make the right medical decisions on your behalf.
What Constitutes a Healthcare Proxy?
A healthcare proxy is a legal document that allows you to appoint a person of your choosing to act as your healthcare agent and make healthcare decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated. Many people choose their partner or spouse, adult child, or sibling to act as their healthcare proxy. Whoever you choose, make sure it is someone that is able to make important decisions swiftly in emergency situations.
A healthcare proxy is only effective when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself, and this has been verified by a physician. You always have the ability to change or revoke your healthcare proxy as long as you are competent.
Other names for a healthcare proxy, depending on the jurisdiction you reside in, include health care surrogate and medical power of attorney (POA).
How Does a Healthcare Proxy Differ from a Living Will?
A Living Will is a document that allows you to specify what your wishes are regarding end-of-life care and life-prolonging procedures. It is not addressed to anyone in particular but makes your medical care wishes clear to your family, friends, and medical personnel. This differs from a healthcare proxy in that the proxy is actually appointing a person to make your healthcare decisions on your behalf. A healthcare proxy is extremely helpful as it allows the person you appoint to make decisions for situations that were not anticipated and addressed beforehand (like in a Living Will).
There is a document known as an Advance Directive that is available in some jurisdictions that combines properties of the Living Will and the healthcare proxy.
Why Have a Healthcare Proxy?
Having an appointed healthcare proxy can not only bring peace of mind in knowing you have someone looking out for your interests even when you are unable to do so, it can also prevent strife and unnecessary delay in care. For example, family members often disagree on what type of medical care a loved one should receive, and valuable time is spent arguing. By appointing a specific person to make your healthcare decisions, you are able to avoid this.
Without a healthcare proxy, medical establishments will look to state law to determine who can make medical decisions on your behalf. With that said, you especially want a healthcare proxy when any of the following situations are present:
- You have been diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness
- You have reached an age where illnesses are more prevalent
- You are in the process of drafting or updating a Will or other advance directive documents
But again, it's important to stress that you do not (and should not) wait until the last minute to create a healthcare proxy because we never know with certainty when something might happen, like a serious car accident.