Health care proxies, used in combination with living wills, are referred to as "Advanced Directives."
A health care proxy, or durable power of attorney for health care, allows you to designate another person as your agent to make health care decisions on your behalf. If a situation arises in which you are incapacitated and cannot make medical decisions for yourself, a health care proxy instructs doctors, nurses and others involved with your care that the person you appointed as your agent is the person who you want making care decisions on your behalf.
For example, a health care proxy can allow you to give your agent the power to:
- Be given first priority to visit you in the hospital;
- Receive your personal property recovered by any hospital or police agency at the time of your incapacitation; and
- Authorize medical treatment and surgical procedures.
A health care proxy does not automatically go into effect but, rather, comes into effect as specified in the document. This condition varies from state to state but most often, the document states that the proxy will come into effect only when and if your doctor declares that you are incapacitated.
It is especially critical for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people to know that if you do not create a health care proxy naming your partner or a friend as your agent, the hospitals and courts will look to your closest biological family member to make health care decisions for you, and your partner or friend will have no legal right to make such decisions. Also note that a health care proxy becomes ineffective at your death and it is, therefore, critical that you also have a will.
Because each state regulates the requirements for a valid health care proxy in different ways, it is important to know the requirements in your state. We strongly recommend that you consult a competent family or estate planning attorney who is familiar with these issues.