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Health Care Proxy vs Advance Directive

Two important estate planning tools. Your Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive. Pros and cons of Health Care Proxy vs Advance Directive.

Protecting your health throughout your life should be a top priority, including when talking about your Estate Plan. Although a Will may often be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about estate planning, taking care of your health through an Advance Directive or through a Health Care Proxy are just as important. In life, you can never know what unexpected events may occur that may affect your health, but you can do your best to prepare for them.

Trust & Will, a trusted leader in online estate planning services, knows how vital it is to ensure that your health and medical needs are taken care of and protected no matter the situation. That is why we are going to cover everything you need to know about Health Care Proxies and Advance Directives, as well as discuss the pros and cons of each. 

Keep reading to learn:

What is a Health Care Proxy?

A Health Care Proxy is a legal document that allows you to give control of your medical decisions to another trusted individual (a Proxy) in the event that you are no longer capable of making those decisions for yourself. For example, the need for a Health Care Proxy will arise when one of the following occurs:

  • You are in a coma

  • You are diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease

  • Significant memory loss occurs

  • You are declared brain dead

In these situations and many more, your Health Care Proxy will be asked to step in to make all further medical decisions for you, whether that be if you should undergo surgery, what medications you should be taking, or if you should be removed from a ventilator after being declared brain dead. Your Health Care Proxy will act as your legal stand-in for all medical decisions and will be responsible for ensuring that all of your wishes regarding your medical care are met. 

What is an Advance Directive? 

An Advance Directive is a legal document that spells out all of your wishes regarding your medical care if a time comes in which you can no longer be responsible for your own medical decisions and you are incapable of speaking up for yourself. Your Advance Directive gives you the opportunity to write down in a legally binding document what treatment you want, or do not want,  in situations such as being diagnosed with brain death. This directive will ensure that your medical decisions are met even when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Doctors will be legally permitted to follow your care instructions as you have described in your Advance Directive, allowing you to rest easier knowing that your wishes will be met. 

How are they different?

The main difference between a Health Care Proxy and an Advance Directive is who or what will be speaking on your behalf in your absence. In the case of a Health Care Proxy, a trusted loved one will be given the responsibility. However, with an Advance Directive, your decisions regarding medical intervention and end-of-life preferences are clearly stated in a legally binding document rather than a living person. There are pros and cons to each method, which are covered below.

What are the pros and cons of each?

The biggest advantage of a Health Care Proxy is that they are much more flexible to your medical needs as they arise. Health issues can always change and new and unexpected needs can arise at any time. A Health Care Proxy has the power to step in and make decisions regarding any health issue that may occur.

The disadvantage of a Health Care Proxy is that it is, unfortunately, easier for your wishes to get lost in translation, as it is not your exact preferences in writing but instead the words and choices of your Health Care Proxy who will be making the decisions on your behalf. That is why it is crucial that you choose someone you truly trust to make decisions in your best interest when picking a Health Care Proxy.

One of the most significant advantages of having an Advance Directive is that your wishes are much less likely to get misconstrued, as there is written documentation declaring how you want your medical care handled. As long as you are clear and thorough within your Advance Directive, there is little room for your desires to not be met. 

A disadvantage of an Advance Directive is that it can only account for the medical decisions that you have written down within the legal document. If medical decisions arise that you had not previously considered documenting in your Advance Directive, there will be no clear written instructions dictating how you would want them handled.  

How do I decide which to use?

The simple answer is: don’t choose! It would be more advantageous to choose a Health Care Proxy AND create an Advance Directive. In your Advance Directive, you can account for all the bigger decisions your Health Care Proxy will have to make, giving them a document to fall back on to keep them from having to worry about making the wrong choice. That way, should the need arise to have them step in on your behalf, your Health Care Proxy can be there to fill in the gaps when decisions need to be made. Creating both a document appointing someone to act as your Health Care Proxy as well as creating an Advance Directive document is the best way to protect your medical care decisions. 

Deciding who you want to be your Health Care Proxy and what decisions you want included in your Advance Directive can be challenging, as they are very big decisions. However, creating the documents themselves does not have to be. With Trust & Will‘s online estate planning services, it is easier than ever to create a comprehensive Estate Plan, including your Will, Trust-Based Estate Plan, Advanced Directives, Health Care Proxy and Nomination of Guardianship documents. 

Get started by preparing your Health Care Proxy and other important Estate Plan documents today!


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