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  • Alan D. Feller, Esq.

What is a Health Care Proxy?


Is there a person who you trust with your life?

Some eldercare planning questions bring only answers. The question above almost always brings nervous laughter and a comment concerning a family member’s likelihood of “pulling the plug” too early or too late. This is the context that surrounds the Health Care Proxy.

A Health Care Proxy is the individual you choose to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so. The Health Care Proxy form requires a signature of the person who is selecting the Proxy and the signatures of two witnesses. Upon admission, Hospitals often present you with a Health Care Proxy form to execute if you do not have one. Estate and Eldercare attorneys also prepare Health Care Proxy forms for their clients.

A Health Care Proxy can be a spouse or an adult child, or a sibling or a family friend or any individual you trust. Only one Proxy can act at a time. An alternate Proxy can be selected to back-up the First named Proxy.

Should you be selected as a Health Care Proxy there are a variety of responsibilities that you will be shouldering on behalf of a loved one if they become incapacitated. Some examples: Agreeing to a surgical procedure, advocating for sensible hospital discharge planning including Rehabilitative or Nursing Facilities, Hospice planning and end of life decisions. There will be discussions with doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists and other medical professionals. Health Care Proxies have to weigh their own knowledge regarding the desires of the loved one with objective facts before arriving at a decision.

When my father became ill I was his Health Care Proxy. His illnesses presented a difficult chessboard to manage. Every positive and negative morsel of information was brought to my attention. There were a few “saving the day” moments, but there were also many discouraging reports. Watching someone you love decline while you are tasked with their preservation is a trying position.

The only expectations that a Health Care Proxy should have placed on them is to act rationally and be communicative.

Even though the completion of a Health Care Proxy form is relatively simple, many people do not have a Proxy in place when they lose capacity. Prior to 2010, an Article 81 Guardianship of the Person was required to appoint a decisionmaker in that situation. Besides being costly, the proceeding took up valuable time.

In 2010, the Family Health Care Decisions Act in New York allowed for a nursing home patient or hospital patient to have a health care decisionmaker designated without an executed Health Care Proxy form. The order of priority according to the law is: Legal Guardian, Spouse/Domestic Partner, Adult Child, Parent, Sibling, Close Friend.

Even with the 2010 law in place it is still better to choose your own proxy and not have the law dictate the order of priority. A Health Care Proxy is a basic building block of your long-term planning. If there is a chance that you can successfully recover from a significant illness, having a Health Care Proxy making sound decisions would be a major contributing factor. Find out more about Health Care Proxies by reaching out to the professionals at Sloan and Feller.


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