A health care proxy is a legal document by which a “principal” appoints another person, known as a “health care agent,” to make health care decisions if the principal is unable to do so. Unlike with other advance planning directives, such as a power of attorney, the health care proxy only becomes effective, and the health care agent is only authorized to act, when the principal is legally unable to do so. Prior to this point, the principal remains responsible for making all health care decisions.
The directives given to a health care agent may be general in nature, such as “I give my health care agent the authority to make any and all health care decisions for me,” or may contain specific guidelines, limitations, etc. as to how, when and under which circumstances certain decisions are to be made.
While a principal may want to appoint more than one person as the principal’s health care agent, the laws governing health care proxies only allow one health care agent to act at any given time. Therefore, in appointing multiple health care agents, a principal must create a pecking order of persons who will act. By way of example, if a principal wants to appoint Paul and Jessica as the principal’s health care agents, the principal must provide, in the health care proxy itself, who is to act first. So while the health care proxy cannot read “I appoint Paul and Jessica acting together,” it can read “Paul acts first and, if Paul cannot act, then Jessica acts as health care agent.”
Prior to executing a health care proxy, the principal should always discuss the principal’s health care wishes with his/her nominated health care agent. Only in having this difficult conversation can the principal rest assured that the health care agent knows what the principal’s health care preferences are.
If you or a loved one would like to execute a health care proxy, please contact our office.