Estate planners help to put together a wide array of documents meant to protect their client's estate, and one of those documents is called a health proxy. Many states have rules on who can be named a health proxy for an individual, so it is important to discuss the details of a proxy with your estate planner before you actually put one into effect. Once a proxy is in place, you can rest assured knowing that your medical requests will be honored and good decisions will be made on your behalf.
A health proxy is an agreement that states that someone else will make medical decisions for an individual if that individual is unable to make decisions on their own. Situations that are covered by a health proxy include being in a coma after an injury, Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, inability to speak after an accident or injury, and end of life decisions. A health proxy takes effect when a doctor declares an individual incapable of making their own decisions, and remains in effect until the individual recovers from their injuries or passes away.
Another document an estate planner will prepare is called a living will. This is the document that outlines how an individual wants to be treated when it comes time to make end of life decisions, and it takes priority over a health proxy. If an individual does not want to be sustained by machines and a feeding tube and puts that in their living will, then that is the decision that will be made regardless of what the health proxy wants.
In most situations, a health proxy is chosen by the individual and there is a back-up proxy chosen as well in case the health proxy in unable to make decisions on behalf of the individual. If there is no expiration date attached to a health proxy, then it remains in effect indefinitely when the individual becomes incapacitated. Otherwise, the health proxy can have an expiration date that will have to be re-visited when the proxy expires.
A health proxy only has the authority to make medical decisions for an individual. For all other decisions, most courts will turn to the person who has power of attorney over the individual. In some cases, it is possible to designate a separate person to make financial decisions for the individual.
In situations where the health proxy is asked to make decisions on behalf of an individual, it is a good idea for the proxy to get their own attorney to help decipher the proxy agreement. As long as the health proxy follows the terms of the agreement, then they will not be financially or legally responsible for any decisions that they make. But if the proxy goes away from the agreement to make a decision, then they would be responsible for the consequences.
Every individual, whether they have an estate or not, should have a health proxy filed with their attorney. In those moments when you cannot speak for yourself, you want to feel confident that the person speaking for you has your best interests at heart.