A health care proxy, also known as a Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care, is a legal document that lets you decide who you want to make your medical decisions in the event you are unable to.
There are many benefits to having a health care proxy. Your appointed proxy (also known as an “agent”) will speak for you when your treating doctor determines you are not able to make or communicate your own health decisions. This document allows you to specify the health care decisions to be made, including your choices regarding organ donation and resuscitation orders.
A health care proxy is an essential component of your estate plan, and allows for health care decisions made in your name to be based on your values and your wishes. Alternatively, if you do not choose one, your loved ones may have to go through a court proceeding to make the necessary medical decisions for you. This can result in legal expenses and appearances before a judge, time they could have used to be with you in the hospital instead. If your loved ones disagree, a court will in all likelihood appoint a neutral stranger to make your health care decisions for you.
Here are some considerations for how to choose your health care agent:
Because this person will be responsible for making your health care decisions for you when you cannot advocate for yourself, it is important to trust them. Do you have a loved one whom you know to be trustworthy and could take on the important role of being your health care proxy?
You should be comfortable with the person you choose accessing your medical records and knowing your health conditions.
The proxy you choose should live close enough to you or be easily accessible in the event of an emergency. It is strongly recommended that you have at least one alternative agent to carry out your wishes in the event your primary agent is not available.
Are you healthy and creating this document in the event of an emergency? Or have you just been diagnosed with a serious illness that may soon impact your ability to make health care decisions? Your agent may be burdened with making life and death decisions for you. Your loved one should be able to withstand pressure either from your treating team or from other loved ones and advocate for what you would want.
Gentreo’s Health Care Proxy tool contains sections where you can input explicit instructions and optional instructions. Explicit instructions tell your agent what they cannot do, and optional instructions tell them what they should do to fulfil your wishes. For example, optional instructions are a good opportunity to include any specific religious or spiritual requirements you wish for your agent to follow. These additional instructions can be a useful tool to further explain what your agent is and is not permitted to do on your behalf in order to carry out your wishes.
Choosing who to pick as your health care agent, and who to pick as your alternate(s), is a critical part of your overall estate plan to protect your choices and help your loved ones in a time of crisis.