What Is a Health Care Proxy? - New York Estate Planning News

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What Is a Health Care Proxy?

The New York Health Care Proxy Law allows you to appoint an agent you trust -- for example, a family member or close friend -- to make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself. The document legally authorizing that person is called a health care proxy.

A health care proxy is a completely voluntary way to eliminate confusion among loved ones and health care providers about your health care wishes. Hospitals, doctors, and other medical providers must follow the agent's decisions as if they were your own.

Here are a few answers to questions commonly asked about health care proxies:

Who Can Serve as a Health Care Agent?

You may choose any adult (18 years of age or older), including a family member or close friend, to be your health care agent. If you name a spouse as your health care agent, but you later divorce or separate, by law, he or she cannot serve as an agent unless you specify otherwise.

A doctor can act either as your agent or your attending doctor, but not as both simultaneously. A number of special rules apply to patients or residents of a nursing home, hospital, or mental health facility who want to name a staff member as an agent.

What Powers Do Health Care Agents Have?

Your agent will start making decisions for you when your doctor determines that you are not able to make health care decisions for yourself. Your agent can decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes, but he or she is legally obligated to always act in your best interest.

The person you select as your health care agent will have as little or as much authority as you want. You may allow your agent to make all health care decisions or only certain ones.

A health care proxy is different from a living will because it does not require that you know in advance all the decisions that may arise. Nevertheless, you may give your agent instructions that he or she must follow and specify on the form the treatments you do or do not want.

Also, note that you can continue to make health care decisions for yourself as long as you're able to do so. You can also cancel the authority given to your agent by informing him or her or your health care provider orally or in writing.

To appoint a health care agent, you and your agent must sign a New York health care proxy form in the presence of two adult witnesses.

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