If you are just beginning the estate planning process, you may have seen information advising you to have advance medical directives, which are legal documents that deal with issues relating to treatment preferences, and the designation of a decision-maker should you become unable to make medical decisions on your own.
Often, estate planning information advises you to have a ‘Durable Power of Attorney’ to appoint an ‘agent’ or ‘proxy’ to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so on your own. Your proxy may have to make some tough calls, including terminating care and ending life support, should that be in your best interest. In fact, this ‘proxy’ must always act in your best interest, it is part of their duty and responsibility.
In New York State, a Durable Power of Attorney is not used to appoint a health care proxy, as New York has enacted a Health Care Proxy law that requires a separate document be prepared appointing a health care agent.
By using a health care proxy, you ensure that health care providers follow your wishes. Your proxy is tasked with deciding how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your proxy’s decisions as if they were your own. It is not required that you give a health care proxy total contol, you may give them as little or as much authority as you wish. Using a health care proxy allows you to maintain control of your health care when you are no longer able to express your wishes.
An estate planning attorney assists you with the legal documents and advice you need to make plans for both the expected and unexpected that occur, and a health care proxy is one of the most important documents to have in an estate plan.