Health Care Proxy

The Ins and Outs of a Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a legal document in which a person names an agent to make medical decisions on the person’s behalf, if that person is incapable of making decisions for themself. It is common for your proxy to make treatment decisions for you if you are incapable or can’t talk due to an injury or illness.

A health care proxy, holding hands with a woman with a scarf around her head sitting on the couch

How to Choose Your Health Care Proxy

First, it's important to make sure that whoever you choose to as your health care proxy that it is someone you can trust to carry out your wishes. It's important to note, that it's really not a good idea to name your doctor as your proxy.  And many states do not allow this. Be sure you know the rules in the state you live in. 

It's imperative you have open and honest communication with the person you choose. You want someone who knows exactly what you want, and has the personality to stand up for your rights. Next, clearly explain to your proxy exactly what you want to happen in certain situations. Make sure that person is willing and able to carry out your wishes.

What Is the Difference Between a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will?

Both documents are advance care directives. However, there are distinct differences between them.

  • A living will - A written form that leaves instructions for your treatment when in the hospital. It can be very specific or very general. It details what treatments and medical care you want to receive in end-of-life situations.
  • Health care proxy - This document allows someone to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so yourself. You proxy can request or refuse treatment based on what you would do if you were capable.

Do I Need a Health Care Proxy and an Enduring Guardian?

No. You do not need both types of documents. A health care proxy is a legal document that seems to be more popular than naming an enduring guardian. Both documents allow the appointed person to make healthcare decisions for you.

How is a Health Care Proxy Different Than an Enduring Power of Attorney?

An enduring power of attorney gives the person you choose permission to make financial decisions on your behalf. The person can sign and write checks, as well as make bank transactions, when you are not able to do so. This person can’t make health decisions for you.

A health care proxy allows you to choose a person to make your health decisions for you. That person would act on your behalf when medical questions arise, and you can’t answer them yourself.

The Decisions Your Proxy Can Make

When you name a health care proxy, that person can only make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do it yourself.

Some of those decisions include:

  • Agreeing to or refusing any medical treatments or procedures
  • Hiring and firing medical providers
  • Admitting you or discharging you from a hospital or medical care facility
  • Accessing your medical records
  • Donating your organs

The Right Time to Choose a Health Care Proxy

As I'm sure you're aware, your parents serve as your proxy until your 18th birthday. Once you become an adult, no one can access your medical records or make decisions for you unless you grant them permission.

So, if you’re over 18, you should complete a health care proxy form. Each state has their own version and provides this form free. For more information on the forms, click here. You do not need a lawyer to fill out the form, but some states require you to have witnesses. Your health care proxy can’t be a witness.

Other Times to Consider Choosing a Health Care Proxy

  • Going to college
  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having children
  • Becoming eligible for Medicare
  • When you’re going on a major trip
  • When you are newly diagnosed with an illness

Should I Appoint More Than One Proxy?

You can appoint multiple proxies.  However, it is not recommended to name two people to serve as your health care proxy. If they disagree on something having to do with your wishes, things can become complicated. It’s best to choose that one person you know you can trust.

It is a good idea to name an alternate proxy, just in case your first choice is not able to stand up for you.

Does My Health Care Proxy Have to be a Family Member?

It’s common for people to choose a spouse or adult child to act as their proxy. However, that is not required. If you don’t think your family members can adequately do the job, it’s OK to choose someone outside of the family.

If you do choose a friend or someone else, make sure your family knows what you want ahead of time. Don’t wait until a medical crisis pops up to reveal your choice. Make sure your family knows who you want acting on your behalf.

Who You Can’t Name as Your Proxy

There are a few restrictions on who you can choose as your proxy:

  • No one under 18 (in Alabama and Nebraska it’s under 19)
  • If you’re a patient in a health care facility, you can’t choose an employee of the facility (unless it’s a relative)
  • You can’t choose your doctor or nurse, or anyone else on your medical care team

  • In more than half of the states, you can’t choose a potential beneficiary of your estate

You Can Change Your Proxy if Needed

It’s possible you could change your mind over the years about who you picked to be your health care proxy. Maybe you got divorced, maybe your friend moved away, or maybe your relationship with that person changed.

Whatever the circumstance, you can change your proxy at any time. If you do, make sure you fill out a new form and tell your family what you’re doing. It’s important that everyone is still clear on what your wishes are.

What If I Don’t Have Anyone I Trust?

You may be wondering who to appoint if you don't have anyone you can trust. It’s important to note, your health care proxy doesn’t have to be someone in your family. It can be a friend, someone you work with, or someone who attends your church.

However, if you still feel like you can’t find a person you can trust, it’s important to still fill out a proxy form. That way, you can still list what treatments you do or don’t want to receive if you become ill and can’t make decisions for yourself.

How to Prepare Your Health Care Proxy

After you decide who you want to name as your health care proxy, here's the next steps you should take: 

  1. 1
    First, ask the person if they are comfortable being your proxy. Listen to what they have to say in response. They may be caught off guard. So, be considerate and answer any questions they have. Make it clear that they are allowed to say NO.
  2. 2

    Next, make sure your health care proxy understands what this responsibility includes. It’s important they understand the types of medical decisions they will have to make on your behalf. Don’t leave ANYTHING out! Do your best to clearly explain what you want, so there is no confusion if and when the time comes.

  3. 3
    Then, be sure to discuss your end-of-life care choices in DETAIL with your proxy. Talk about specific medical scenarios. What kind of care and treatments you would want.
  4. 4
    Finally, make sure your proxy has access to all your important information. You can easily share and control access to you important documents with My LifeJars.  Give them a copy of your health care proxy, your living will, and advance care directives. Do they have names and phone numbers of your doctors and health care providers. And, give your doctors your health care proxy’s contact information too!

How to be a Good Health Care Proxy

Here are some important things to remember if you’re picked to be a proxy:

  • Make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities - You are entitled to full access to your person’s medical information under HIPAA.
  • Make sure you understand the person’s wishes and choices - Have in-depth conversations with your person about their treatment and medical care decisions so you understand everything they want. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions.
  • Be comfortable standing up for your person - When making decisions on behalf of someone else, remember,  it’s OK to ask questions if you don’t understand something. It’s always best to be firm and follow your person’s wishes to the letter!

What to Do When Everything Is Prepared

Finally, don't forget to make sure your health care proxy has access to all of your advance care directives. The perfect way to do this is by creating a FOREVER free account online with My LifeJars.

Our app offers you a safe and secure place to keep your important documents all in one place. And, by having all of your documents in one place, you can give your health care proxy your login information and grant them access to your account. That way, in case you are medically unable to make decisions, your proxy can access your documents that outline your wishes.