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What Is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy allows you to designate a person who can make medical decisions for you in the event that you are too seriously incapacitated through illness or injury to make those decisions yourself. In some states, a health care proxy is known as a medical power of attorney.

Many legal and health care experts agree that it is a good idea for all adults to draft a health care proxy. Most states have a simple form that becomes binding once witnessed and signed by a non-interested third party (such as a notary public or health care provider). A proxy can be revoked or changed at any time.

Make Your Wishes Clear

You can make your proxy as specific as you like. For example, if you don't want to remain on life support in the event that you suffer irreparable brain damage, you can specify this in your proxy. Your designated health care agent will be tasked with instructing caregivers of your wishes.

When deciding who will act as your agent, consider the following:

  • Your agent may be making life-or-death decisions for you. Choose someone whose judgment you trust and who can clearly communicate your preferences to doctors and loved ones. Because these decisions are often traumatic and emotional for loved ones, you may want to designate someone other than your spouse.
  • You can specify what decisions your agent can make on your behalf. For example, you can limit your agent to speaking on your behalf for treatments pertaining to a certain disease, but not your overall care.
  • You may want to select an alternative agent, in case your primary decision maker cannot be reached or is also incapacitated.

Make Sure Your Loved Ones Know What You Want

Once you've drafted your health care proxy, it is a good idea to discuss it with your specified agent and let other loved ones know of your decisions. While not a pleasant topic, it's better to let your intentions be known in advance of any unforeseen events. You also may want to give a copy to your primary care physician to keep in your file.

Your state's regulations concerning health care proxies can be obtained by contacting the Department of Health.

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