“A health care proxy is also called a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care decisions. The document allows you to designate a person who will make all your health care decisions, if you are not able to.”
It can happen to anyone. You can suddenly have an unexpected catastrophic injury or illness that makes you, at least temporarily, unable to decide for yourself. You can either hope for the best or get a health care proxy now, before something happens. If nothing happens, the document changes nothing about your life. However, if you need it, the document can be essential. What is a health care proxy? If you are thinking about getting one, you could use a primer on health care proxies explained.
A health care proxy is also known as a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care decisions. The document allows you to designate a person who will make all your health care decisions, if you cannot. You must be legally competent when you set up the proxy. Medical powers of attorney are sometimes used on a temporary basis, for example, right after a person has undergone surgery and until she has recovered sufficiently to decide for herself again. The documents can also be useful in longer-term situations, such as Alzheimer’s.
Differences Between Health Care Proxy and Guardianship
Although a guardian can make health care decisions for his ward, proxies and guardianships have many legal differences. These include:
- You can have two people serve as co-guardians, but you cannot have two people serve as the decision-makers under a health care proxy.
- You must go to court to get a guardianship, but do not go to court for a health care proxy.
- The court must declare you incompetent to set up a guardianship, but no such determination takes place with a health care proxy.
- You lose your independence and many of your rights, when you are a ward in a guardianship. A medical power of attorney can sit in your file of important legal papers for years, until it is needed. Until used, the proxy changes nothing about your legal rights or independence. You can continue making all of your decisions until you cannot do so.
- You must go to court to terminate a guardianship, even if you later become competent to make your own decisions. You can revoke a medical power of attorney by ripping it up or by notifying the appropriate people you revoke the paper. The proxy is only effective when you cannot make your decisions. Therefore, you may take back that right when you can do so, without legal process.
When you set up your health care proxy, sit down with the person you designate to let them know what you have asked them to do. If you have a stroke, for example, and you did not let your son know he is your designated health care decision-maker, he will not know that he is supposed to act on your behalf. Also tell him your wishes for specific types of medical procedures.
The laws that control health care proxies can be different in your state, so talk with an elder care attorney in your area.
A Place For Mom. “10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents.” (accessed October 8, 2017) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/essential-questions-for-aging-parents/
PBS. “Caring For Your Parents.” (accessed October 8, 2017) https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/caringforyourparents/handbook/legalissues/importantlegal.html
Aging Care. “2 Must-Have Legal Documents for Elderly Healthcare.” (accessed October 8, 2017) https://www.agingcare.com/articles/legal-documents-to-make-healthcare-decisions-for-your-parent-146623.htm
Elder Law Answers. “What’s a Health Care Proxy and Why Do I Need One?” (accessed October 8, 2017) https://www.elderlawanswers.com/whats-a-health-care-proxy-and-why-do-i-need-one-6070