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What is a Health Care Proxy (& Why You Should Have One)

Learn all about what a health care proxy is, also known as a health care surrogate, in estate planning with this guide by the experts at Trust & Will.

A Health Care Proxy is someone you appoint to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re unable to make them for yourself.

You can appoint a Health Care Proxy in the Medical Power of Attorney portion of your Advance Healthcare Directive (AHCD). Learn more about Advance Healthcare Directives and Proxies below, where we’ll discuss: 

What is a Health Care Proxy?

A Health Care Proxy is also known as a Health Care Surrogate, Agent, Attorney-in-Fact or other similar terms. Here, we’ll use the terms Healthcare Surrogate, Proxy and Agent interchangeably. 

A Health Care Proxy makes medical decisions for you if you can’t make them on your own for any reason. Your Proxy will also help make sure doctors follow any wishes or preferences you’ve stated in the Living Will portion of your Advance Healthcare Directive. Your Living Will is where you would clearly state your Health care Proxy designation and any general desires for healthcare intervention in advance.  

Why You Should Have a Health Care Surrogate

Choosing a Healthcare Surrogate is an essential component of your Estate Planning. Being prepared for the unexpected gives you peace of mind, as you’ll be able to trust your family will have clear direction about your wishes, even if you can’t tell them in the moment. 

The fact is, 60 percent of people will become incapacitated at some point in their life. If this happens, medical decisions will need to be made on their behalf. Preparing by naming a Healthcare Surrogate and describing the limits and extent of care you want is the best gift you can give to your family. 

What can a Health Care Proxy or Surrogate do?

By now you know a Health Care Proxy or Surrogate makes decisions about your healthcare when you can’t make them yourself. But the exact details of their authority can vary a little by state. That said, Healthcare Agents often make decisions about:

  • Starting and Stopping Treatment: Healthcare Proxies make the decisions such as starting and stopping treatments and medical interventions.  

  • Deciding on Types of Treatment: Not only will your Health Care Proxy decide when to

    start and stop treatment, he or she will also make decisions about the

    types of treatment that should be used in your care. 

  • Finding Long-Term Care: If you need long-term or permanent care due to being incapacitated, your Health Care Proxy would be charged with finding an appropriate place for you to go. This could be upon your release from the hospital, or if you move straight into a facility from any other living arrangement. 

  • Choosing to Continue or End Life Support: This is often the most difficult part of being a Health Care Proxy. Deciding to end life support or stop extreme measures and interventions can be incredibly intense. You’ll likely have added provisions or stipulations about how much intervention you want before ending support, and keep in mind, the more direction you can give, the clearer you can be, the better. 

Who to Choose for Your Health Care Proxy?

You can pick virtually any adult you wish to be your Health Care Proxy. However, most states won’t let you name your doctor or anyone who works for your doctor. Family members and close friends are commonly chosen as Proxies.

It’s important that you choose someone you trust and who knows you well enough that they can make decisions for you. It can be a tough responsibility that may require asking questions of your doctors about treatment options available, so you want someone who’s both assertive and practical. 

Should I Have Backups?

A backup Healthcare Agent is someone you designate to step in should the primary Agent not be available for any reason. A second backup Healthcare Agent could also be selected just in case both the primary and first backup are unable or unwilling to take on the task.

It’s a great idea to name backups and it’s something we highly encourage. Naming a Healthcare Agent is just one more way to help protect yourself and your loved ones from the unknown. And naming backups allows that protection to extend even further.  

Your Healthcare Agent, if needed, will likely have to make some difficult decisions in a stressful time. Keep this in mind when you’re considering who to select. You want someone who can pragmatically and proactively handle the role, someone who will be your advocate and respect your wishes, someone who will be able to communicate with your doctors, family and loved ones about the situation. 

You hope it never happens, but if it does...don’t you want to be prepared? If you’re ready to take the next step in your Estate Planning and name a Health Care Proxy, reach out to Trust & Will today. Learn more about how you can use a Living Will to set up your Health Care Proxy designation and protect yourself and your loved ones.