A health care proxy, also known as a “health care surrogate” or “medical power of attorney,” allows you to designate another person, known as an agent or proxy, to legally make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. It does not grant any powers to the health care agent until you are actually unable to make or communicate health care decisions. Typically, couples will name each other as primary health care agent and name another person as a back-up. Without a health care proxy in place, your loved one may have to go to court to have a guardian named in order to direct your health care treatment, a process that takes time and costs money.
An advance directive, also known as a “living will,” expresses your wishes as to how your designated agent should proceed in certain specific circumstances such as how and when you wish to receive medical treatment in the event of a terminal illness. For example, you can choose if you want or do not want feeding tubes, CPR, or antibiotics.
An advance directive works in conjunction with a health care proxy. If the advance directive does not address a treatment or procedure that a doctor is considering, the proxy could make the decision based on what he believes the patient would want.
Planning ahead is crucial for the well-being, both emotionally and financially, of yourself and your family. A comprehensive estate plan should include both a health care proxy and an advance directive.