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Spokane Estate & Probate Lawyers / Blog / Estate Planning / What is a Health Care Proxy? Do I Need One?

What is a Health Care Proxy? Do I Need One?

health care proxy

Who would you select to make medical decisions for you if you could not do so yourself?

A health care proxy (also called a health care agent or Power of Attorney for Health Care) is the individual you pick to handle your health care if you’re too ill to manage it yourself. Your proxy can communicate with your doctors, go through your medical records, and make decisions on your behalf.

Planning for long-term care allows you to decide what you want if, at some point in the future, you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. You may indicate what you desire doctors to do if you are severely injured or terminally ill with papers like a living will.

How to Select a Health Care Proxy

Parents are automatically their children’s proxy until they reach the age of 18. After that, no one can access your medical records or make decisions for you unless they have written permission. So everyone aged 18 and over should fill out a health care proxy form, even if they’re in perfect health.

A health care proxy or medical power of attorney, describes the document that specifies who has authority over your health care. This position entails significant obligations and legal responsibilities. It is not something to take lightly.

A variety of factors can cause incapacitation. None are simple to consider, but you must do so nonetheless. A health care proxy must take charge in making medical judgments when you are no longer able to do so for yourself.

Dementia and other age-related ailments are frequent causes of the need for a health care proxy. However, age is not the only consideration. Perhaps you suffer a head injury or get sick with cancer. Your cognitive performance may be affected by an illness. Before an accident or sickness occurs, you must choose a health care proxy.

Therefore, as one who is on the fence about what to do if they are incapacitated, this guide will help you decide how much control you want and how far down the barrel of responsibility you want to go. You may also use it as a guide to assist in educating your loved ones regarding your wishes during times of need.

At a minimum, you should go through your long-term care plan at least once every ten years. It would be best if you also went over it before significant life changes like getting married, having a kid, or divorcing. Familiarizing yourself with these events may be helpful if you’re considering traveling outside the country or undergoing major surgery.

Duties of a Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a person chosen by the principal on whose behalf they act. When the principal’s capacity to make medical decisions is lost, their health care proxy becomes empowered to do so on their behalf. This includes the power to consent to or refuse medical treatments.

A health care proxy is a fiduciary because of the principal’s amount of confidence in it. A fiduciary is obligated to represent the client’s interests, even if that means damaging their interests. This duty requires them to avoid business opportunities that would benefit them personally while harming the corporation’s interests. They should not profit from their position of trust, also known as “self-dealing.”

Each decision that a health care proxy makes on the principal’s behalf must be either:

  • One of the duties of a standby guardian is to protect the health or life of the principal
  • or To carry out the stated desires of the principal.

Fulfilling these responsibilities may lead to difficult choices. Even though the health care proxy is required to follow the instructions of the principal, such as a “directive to physicians,” which states that they do not want life-sustaining treatment in particular situations, it must carry out those wishes even if it requires causing the end of the principal’s life.

Qualifications to Serve as a Health Care Proxy

In most jurisdictions, being a health care proxy is only loosely regulated. A person must be at least eighteen years old and mentally competent to consent to medical treatments and make other significant decisions to serve as a fiduciary. In some states, individuals with specific criminal convictions are prohibited from serving in a fiduciary capacity.

While formal legal requirements are limited, a major should exercise extreme caution in selecting their health care proxy. It should be someone who can:

  • Ensure that you and the principal’s doctors communicate closely and clearly
  • Recognize the whole nature of whatever injury or sickness caused the principal’s incapacitation
  • Understand the options presented by the physicians
  • When required, seek further medical viewpoints
  • Make educated selections that are in keeping with the principal’s wishes

Number of Health Care Proxies

You should consider naming one or more individuals as alternate health care proxies if your state’s laws allow it. Your first choice might not be able to do so when needed. You want someone who can take over if something comes up. By identifying an alternate health care proxy, you ensure that someone will be available to manage your medical treatment.

You don’t want your health care proxies squabbling over your medical choices. As a result, you should avoid having two or more health care proxies who are all permitted to act on your behalf simultaneously.

Assume you designate your spouse as your primary health care proxy. You list your sibling and then your first cousin as alternatives. Now suppose that you are incapacitated in a vehicle collision. Your spouse is also involved in the accident. The hospital contacts your brother, but he refuses to serve as a proxy for you. Next, they call your cousin. She refuses as well. The hospital staff is now without anyone to make decisions on your behalf.

It would have been better to list your sibling and cousin as co-proxies rather than alternatives in this example. If one was unavailable, the other could still make health care decisions for you.

Finding the Right Health Care Proxy for You

Aside from your state’s legal requirements for health care proxies, it would help if you searched for someone who will advocate for you the way you want to be represented. It should be someone you can trust. Perhaps more significantly, it should be someone prepared to do so. Discussing the issue with the individual ahead of time and obtaining their agreement is an excellent start.

Many individuals select their spouse, adult child, or sibling as their health care proxy. Just remember that you must choose someone who fulfills the legal requirements.

Appointing Someone as Your Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a legal document, and like other legal papers, it must be followed by state rules. The principal’s signature and notarization are required. The proxies must sign another form acknowledging that they have received a copy of the health care proxy document. The formalities for signing a will are frequently used to establish health care proxies.

Keep the original health care proxy document in a safe location, such as a bank vault. A duplicate should be sent to your proxy. You might also give copies to other members of your family or trusted advisors. Give your doctor a copy of the proxy before having any surgery or other primary medical treatment.

It is not for everyone to act as a proxy. Your proxy may be required to make critical, fast judgments on your behalf, such as treatments and operations.

If you Need Help Setting Up Your Health Care Proxy

For help setting up your health care proxy, please fill out our contact form, and we’ll get you in touch with one of our excellent estate planning attorneys, who can guide you through the rest of the process. Or if you’d prefer to call, please get in touch with us at 509-328-2150 .

Click the following link to view a PDF with more information from DSHS on health care proxies.

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