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 What Is a Healthcare Proxy?

A healthcare proxy is a legal document that names a “healthcare agent” to make medical choices in the event that the original “healthcare agent” is injured or ill and unable to do so. A healthcare proxy typically gives an appointed relative or non-family person more power to decide on the subject’s medical treatment.

In most cases, the healthcare agent must be at least 18 years old. Unless the medical practitioner is a family of the person executing the proxy, most states also forbid doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from serving as healthcare agents.

What Distinguishes a Healthcare Proxy from a Living Will?

The extent of life-sustaining treatment is specified in a living will, and the medical professionals obey the patient’s own instructions and wishes, as stated in the living will document.

In contrast to a living will, a healthcare proxy names a healthcare agent who is empowered to make all medical decisions. Instead of attempting to understand what the patient may or may not want to happen, medical professionals will adhere to the healthcare agent’s instructions.

A living will is applicable in cases where choosing to receive such therapies could provide you with a temporary extension of life, and forgoing such treatments would cause you to pass away.

The existence of a living will does not preclude medical personnel from providing you with painkillers and other therapies that would ease your suffering. In cases where your continuing existence is not at risk, such as normal medical care and non-life-threatening medical illnesses, living wills do not control how you will be treated medically.

Most states allow you to list additional medical instructions that you want your doctors to know about the kinds of treatment you do or do not want to receive.

In all states, medical professionals—typically your attending physician and at least one other doctor who has examined you or read your medical records—determine whether you are in such a medical condition.

How Does a Healthcare Proxy Operate?

Every patient has the freedom to choose their own doctors.

However, suppose a healthcare proxy is in place, and the attending physician decides that the patient lacks the mental ability to make decisions. In that case, the proxy will take effect, and the healthcare agent will be in charge of making healthcare decisions on behalf of the patient.

If you cannot communicate your preferences for medical care, you nominate someone and give them the power to make such decisions on your behalf. In most cases, you are either unconscious or mentally incapable of making decisions for yourself; therefore, this predicament usually arises as a result.

Similar to living wills, the health care proxy may be created particularly for you by your attorney, or it may be a standard or statutory form, depending on the state in which you reside. Your healthcare proxy is often one person, not several people acting concurrently.

However, it is extremely typical for you to name one or more substitutes (successors) if your preferred proxy is unavailable. You should be sure your proxy will actually be willing and able to carry out your instructions before designating them.

You should designate a different proxy if your preferred one, for instance, holds a religious belief that forbids them from carrying out your instructions.

Medical specialists will make the initial evaluation of whether you have the capacity to make your own medical care decisions, just as they would in the case of a living will.

The Purpose of Health Directives

Whatever name your state names these agreements, their main goal is to provide you the ability to express your preferences for medical care if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate, such as towards the end of your life.

You can make sure that your preferences are known by stating them in a documented legal instrument. Doctors prefer these documents since they give you a written statement about your medical care and name the person the doctor should consult when they have unresolved medical issues.

The doctor already knows your treatment choices and who you want to make decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so, so they don’t need to ask your family for consensus.

Furthermore, if you provide your doctor with this information and name a healthcare proxy, the doctor will know who should follow if your family disagrees with the course of treatment you choose.

These agreements communicate your preferences to your family so they can avoid making assumptions about what you would want, in addition to aiding your doctor.

Making your wishes known in advance spares your family the stress of having to make difficult decisions during one of the most trying times in their lives.

Getting and Keeping Health Care Proxies and Living Wills

You can obtain these documents from your attorney. These documents typically call for the presence of two witnesses, who must be adults as defined by the laws of your state. Some hospitals and other medical facilities have a policy that prohibits their staff from being present when such forms are signed.

Other limitations on who may witness such documents are found in the majority of states.

The people who serve as witnesses typically aren’t allowed to be those who will receive anything from you when you pass away, either through your will or state law. State law frequently prohibits people from seeing such documents if they are your blood relative, spouse, or person in charge of paying your medical bills. Some attorneys advise having these documents witnessed and notarized.

While all states accept these kinds of documents, the legality of accepting documents created in another state depends on the state.

It is unnecessary to prepare any additional paperwork if you decide to take a trip out of the country.

However, if you reside in more than one state for an extended period of time, you should think about having these documents made in each state where you do so.

You can easily destroy the current records and produce new ones if you change your mind about your medical care, end-of-life preferences, or your choice of health care proxy. You should store your living will, healthcare proxy, power of attorney for healthcare, or advance healthcare directive with your other critical documents.

Make sure a mature person, such as the designated health care proxy, is aware of where you keep these papers. You should give a copy of the document to your regular doctor, who maintains your medical records, so they can keep a copy for their files.

In the event that you are admitted to a hospital, you must bring this document with you and give permission for a copy to be added to your medical record.

If You Don’t Have a Healthcare Proxy, What Should You Do?

Tragic events can occur at any time. A healthcare proxy can assist avoid friction and potential legal disputes, while a living will may not always cover every scenario that could arise.

You should choose a person who can legally act as your advocate and is willing to do so to effectively execute a healthcare proxy and name a healthcare agent.

A local will lawyer can give you guidance on local legal requirements and create a proxy form that complies with your instructions.

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