Breaking Down the Different Parts of a Health Care Proxy

older man lies in a hospital bed while talking seriously with a man in a suit holding a clipboard

If you become seriously ill and cannot speak for yourself, a Health Care Proxy can act on your behalf to express your medical treatment choices to your doctors. Let’s break down the different parts of the Health Care Proxy document and why it is something everyone should have.

What is a Health Care Proxy?

A Health Care Proxy is a legal document where you name someone (known as an agent) to have the authority to communicate with your medical care providers in the event you cannot. If a health crisis hits where you are in a coma, unconscious, or not mentally able to make your own healthcare decisions, your proxy becomes your voice to convey your wishes as to what care and treatments you would want or not want.

The proxy becomes effective when a doctor determines you are incapacitated. You have the right to revoke the proxy at any time as long as you are competent.

In some states like Massachusetts, the Health Care Proxy document lets you appoint an agent and list your healthcare preferences. In other states, the Health Care Proxy – which is also known as a Health Care Power of Attorney or a Medical Care Power of Attorney – just names the agent and offers separate documents like a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive to express your treatment wishes. A Gentreo Health Care Proxy allows you to both name your agents and express your treatment choices.

Related Article: Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney for Health Care, Living Will: What It’s Called in Every State

A Breakdown of the Parts of a Health Care Proxy

Although it may vary a bit from state-to-state, the Health Care Proxy document has several main parts:

  1. Your name and address – First up are your legal name and address. Generally, you must be 18 years-old or older to have a Health Care Proxy.
  2. Name of Health Proxy Agent – Provide the name, address, and phone number of the person you are appointing as your Health Proxy agent. The document will state that this is the person who will make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your own choices. The proxy cannot be anyone associated with the medical facility where you are being treated unless it’s a family member.
  3. Name an Alternate Agent – If the initial agent is not available or unwilling to act when needed, it is important to have a backup who could step in. Again, this should be someone who knows you and would adhere to your wishes. 
  4. The Agent’s Authority – It’s up to you as to how much or little authority you want to give your agent. You could grant “any and all” medical treatment decision-making power to your proxy where they would make all decisions related to treatments, even life-sustaining care. You also can provide limited authority where the agent could only make certain decisions. In this case you would have to list the circumstances or particular treatments where your agent could act on your behalf.
  5. Healthcare Treatment Decisions – As we mentioned, some states allow you to list your medical treatment choices in the Health Care Proxy document. If so, list your preferences and under what conditions you would want or not want: 
    • CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) 
    • Feeding tube 
    • Mechanical ventilation 
    • Dialysis 
    • Pain management 
    • Invasive procedures 
    • Antibiotics/antiviral medications

Also list your wishes for end-of-life care including:

    • Hospice care 
    • Palliative (comfort) care 
    • When to stop life support/sustaining treatments

If your state requires a separate Advanced Medical Directive or Living Will, these choices are to be listed in those documents. 

Related Article: Health Care Proxy vs. Living Will

  1. Sign the Document – You must sign the document to make it valid.
  2. Witness Signature – A witness is typically required to also sign the document to verify that you are of sound mind, at least 18 years of age, and not being influenced into creating the Health Care Proxy. The witness cannot be your proxy or alternate agent.
  3. Notarize the Document – To make the document binding, you might have to have it notarized by a notary public. It depends upon your state’s laws. The person you choose to act as your proxy should be someone you trust who knows and understands your wishes and values. Fully explain your health care and end-of-life wishes to them and explain under what conditions you want treatment or not. Your proxy should also be someone who lives close to you who can be readily available in a time of a crisis.

Related Article: Choosing Your Health Care Proxy

Why Do I Need a Health Care Proxy?

Suppose you do not want certain treatments such as being placed on a respirator or being resuscitated. Or maybe you want to be kept alive by any means. If you are in a condition where you cannot speak for yourself, your Health Care Proxy steps in to make decisions on your behalf.

For example, if you have a heart attack that renders you unconscious, your Health Care Proxy is called by your medical team. You now have a voice that can make decisions based on your wishes as to what steps to take – or not to take – for your medical care. 

Without a Health Care Proxy in place, doctors would go ahead and do what they need to do to keep you alive regardless of your preferences, because they wouldn’t have any way of knowing them.

Related Article: Checklist: How to Create Your Health Care Power of Attorney with Gentreo

Don't Procrastinate!

Perhaps you or a loved one has early-stage dementia; a progressive, mentally debilitating disease that at some point will prevent cognitive decision-making. Or you may have a serious illness that will get worse. Don’t wait for a medical crisis to hit. Now is the time to appoint a Health Care Proxy and list your health care choices. 

Everyone over the age of 18 should have one, since we don’t know what the future holds. Did you know that your 18 year old child also needs this document, because if something happens to them, you will not be able to get information from their doctors without authorization through a Health Care Proxy. 

Related Article: What is a Psychiatric Advance Directive?

Power of Attorney for Healthcare vs. Finances

In some states a Health Care Proxy is known as a Health Care Power of Attorney. This can be confusing since there is a financial Power of Attorney. The duties are similar but the purposes are totally different. Let’s clear it up.

A Health Care Power of Attorney is basically a Health Care Proxy to make medical treatment decisions, while a Power of Attorney is authorized to make financial decisions. Both act of behalf of someone who is incapacitated. 

Everyone Should Have a Health Care Proxy

Having a Health Care Proxy will give both you and your loved ones peace of mind in a time of an emergency when quick decisions may need to be made. Young or old or somewhere in between, you should have a Health Care Proxy to ensure your wishes are carried out.

Related Article: Does My Child Really Need a Health Care Proxy?

Gentreo can help you create your Health Care Proxy, and all of your estate planning documents. We have coaches who can walk you through the process, and we have third party licensed estate planning attorneys in all 50 states if you need state-specific legal advice. And we have a place to store all your estate planning documents in our Digital Family Vault


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