The Importance of a Health Care Proxy

Health Care Proxy

What Is a Health Care Proxy?

There is often confusion surrounding the difference between a health care proxy, a living will, and a power of attorney. Each of these can be very useful but are distinct from one another in their purpose.

It’s critical to understand what a health care proxy is, how it differs from other directives, and why it’s a crucial component of your health care decision planning.

A health care proxy is a legal document that appoints someone else to serve as your Health Care Agent (HCA) regarding healthcare decisions when you cannot do so for yourself. An HCA speaks on your behalf, expresses your wishes, and has the authority to make medical decisions. Thus, an HCA becomes your voice for all of your healthcare decisions.

Living Will
A living will is a document in which individuals record their end-of-life and critical health care decisions.
It doesn’t grant legal permission to any one party to act on their behalf as an HCA. It simply helps your wishes to be known.

Power of Attorney
A power of attorney grants an individual the ability to make financial decisions – and only financial decisions – on your behalf. A power of attorney can’t make health decisions for you, just as a Health Care Agent can’t make financial decisions. Both are separate but important appointments.

Why Should You Have a Health Care Proxy?
While a living will document your wishes for many health care situations, it can’t anticipate all of them and doesn’t ensure that those wishes will be carried out. By appointing an HCA who you trust, you can have confidence that your health care decisions will be honored, even if you haven’t documented them.
You can make this process easier for your HCA by ensuring your Agent knows your values, religious beliefs, general feelings regarding caregivers and health care institutions, and specific life-sustaining and end-of-life preferences.

When Should You Obtain a Health Care Proxy?
It’s crucial to fill out a health care proxy and appoint an agent as soon as possible. No one knows when critical health care decisions may have to be made, and health emergencies can’t be predicted.

Important Considerations When Selecting a Health Care Agent
A health care proxy is a very personal and important document. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you determine who to appoint as your HCA.

  • Discussion with your doctor and family is the most crucial step. You may want to use a health decisions workbook to help you clarify your wishes. A good source for a workbook:
  • Keep your health care proxy documents up-to-date to reflect any changes in personal information for you or your proxy.
  • Make your family and close friends aware that you have a health care proxy and HCA to prevent any confusion and uncertainty during a critical time.
  • Your Health Care Agent should be someone you trust to make your healthcare decisions on your behalf.
  • While you are still competent, you have the right to override your HCA’s decisions or revoke the directive at any time.
  • Understand the difference between a health care proxy and other directives so that all bases are covered.

Learn More About Advanced Care Planning & Health Care Proxies:

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