How To Designate a Healthcare Proxy and Why You Need One

The first step in learning how to designate a healthcare proxy is to understand what a healthcare proxy is. There are many different reasons why someone might need a healthcare proxy, so it’s essential to familiarize yourself with all of these. No matter which circumstances you’re preparing for or finding yourself in, it’s a good idea to learn the steps you need to take to ensure your medical choices are well represented. In 2014, a study found that over half of all Americans over 65 need someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, so the chances that you’ll need a healthcare proxy at some point in your life are very good.

This guide will help you understand what a healthcare proxy is. We’ll also go over why you might need one, and we’ll walk you through how to choose a healthcare proxy and how to make someone a healthcare proxy to prepare for any event in which you can’t make those decisions yourself. First, let’s take a closer look at the definition of a healthcare proxy.

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What Is a Healthcare Proxy?

A healthcare proxy is also known as medical power of attorney, healthcare surrogate, or durable power of attorney for healthcare. Ultimately, your healthcare proxy is someone you trust who will make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot do it yourself. Healthcare proxy can also refer to the document or legal instrument written up to declare who you have chosen as your healthcare proxy. Like a power of attorney, this document hands over the authority to make decisions on your behalf under specific circumstances. When it comes to a power of attorney for healthcare, medical decision-making authority is handed over to the proxy or surrogate when the patient cannot speak or make decisions regarding their healthcare. For instance, if a patient were to find themselves in a coma and their healthcare providers required permission to perform a new treatment, they would turn to the patient’s healthcare proxy to make that decision. The proxy will ultimately grant or revoke consent based on what they understand the patient might want.

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What is the Role of a Healthcare Proxy?

The short answer is that a healthcare proxy is there to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient if the patient is unable to do so for themselves. It gets a little bit more complicated than that, though, when we look a little bit closer. The decisions a healthcare proxy may need to make can be hefty and have life and death implications. Further, a healthcare proxy should do their best to represent the patients' wishes. Knowing what the patient wants in certain health-related situations is crucial for a surrogate’s responsibilities.

A proxy may find themselves making decisions about many things, including:

  • Medical Treatments - Your proxy can give the go-ahead or block specific healthcare treatments based on what they believe you want.
  • Medications - Medication decisions can be made by your decision-making surrogate as well.
  • Surgery - Healthcare proxies can green light surgical procedures on your behalf.
  • Life support - Your proxy may be faced with the decision to continue or end life support.
  • Pain management - Your healthcare proxy may be asked to make choices regarding pain management.
  • Organization - An essential part of a proxy’s job is to stay on top of your condition, treatments, medications and to speak with doctors and caregivers about your medical situation.
  • Communication - A healthcare proxy will need to be in close communication with both the medical team and caregivers, and the family of the patient, relaying important information when required.
  • Second opinions - In some situations, a proxy may feel the need to request second opinions to confirm your condition and prognosis.
  • Legal issues - Your healthcare proxy can choose to take legal action on your behalf to protect your medical rights.
  • Insurance - Your healthcare proxy can set up Medicare or other healthcare insurance options on your behalf.

A healthcare proxy has a great deal of responsibility and should not take the job lightly.

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Why You Need a Healthcare Proxy

With over half of all Americans over 65 requiring someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, there is a good chance you may find yourself needing a proxy one day. Choosing your proxy means you get to select a friend or family member who you trust to carry out your wishes. Those who don’t choose their proxy put a great deal of stress on their loved ones as they struggle to figure out who is in charge of your medical decisions. Unfortunately, this situation can result in rifts within the tightest of families.

Without designating your proxy, you can end up with someone you don’t trust making critical life and death situations on your behalf. Taking the time to choose your healthcare proxy now can save your family the stress and potential arguments as they try to figure out what you might have wanted. You can also be sure that the proxy you choose understands how you feel about certain medical situations. For instance, if you do not wish to be resuscitated under specific circumstances, you can make sure your proxy knows this and represents how you feel about when those circumstances present themselves. You can ensure, through your medical proxy, that you get the care you want when you can’t speak for yourself.

Everyone can benefit from naming a healthcare proxy, no matter their age. It is never too early to choose your medical decision-making surrogate. Life is unpredictable, and people of all ages can find themselves incapacitated and in need of medical care. It’s always better to have someone you trust to represent your wishes ready to make your decisions for you.

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Who Can Serve as a Healthcare Proxy?

Any legal adult can serve as your healthcare proxy, but there are several considerations to make before selecting the right person. On the surface, you might feel drawn to choosing the person closest to you, but there are good reasons why someone emotionally close to you might not be the right choice. For one, they may not have the clarity of thought to make balanced decisions that represent your wishes. For instance, in the event your proxy would have to choose to end life support, someone emotionally close to you may end up making a decision that reflects their emotional state rather than your wishes. They could decide to extend life support even if that’s not what you would have wanted.

Your proxy should have the emotional fortitude to set aside their feelings and make decisions based solely on what you want. It should be someone you trust and who is willing and able to familiarize themselves with your medical records, history, and wishes for the future. The perfect proxy is a compassionate, empathetic person who has the strength to make tough decisions no matter the circumstances. They’ll also benefit from an inquisitive mind and the ability to be discreet. Of course, it’s not always possible to find someone who has all the qualities of a perfect healthcare proxy, so the primary goal is someone you trust to represent your wishes.

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How to Choose a Healthcare Proxy

A great place to start when selecting a healthcare proxy is to consider who, in your life, you feel comfortable talking to about your health. When you choose your medical power of attorney, it is good to bring them up to speed about your medical history. It’s essential to have a conversation about any current conditions you might have, medications you are on, and any important details that can affect future treatment, such as allergies or adverse reactions to drugs.

You’ll also want to rule out anyone for whom this type of decision-making might be too painful. For instance, if you and your brother are close and you think he might be too distraught to make clear-rational decisions while you are incapacitated, perhaps someone else would be a better choice.

Someone who is not afraid to speak up on your behalf and advocate for your needs in a crisis is also a great choice to be your proxy. Quiet and timid people may not make the best candidates when you need someone to raise questions, understand the issues and go against the majority opinion when your wishes call for it. Consider whether or not your proxy will represent your choices even if they or others disagree with them.

In short, your proxy should be able to make choices that represent your wishes at all times, without allowing their emotions to get in the way. It can be challenging to find someone who fits this model, but it’s worth having a chat with your friends and family to find out who can handle it. Here are some points to consider to get a feel for what kind of proxy someone would make:

  • Is this person able to speak up when circumstances call for it?
  • Can you trust the person to make decisions that reflect your wishes at all times?
  • Can this person put their feelings and opinions aside to represent how you feel about your healthcare?
  • Can this person make decisions that reflect your wishes in the face of the heavy emotional toll that comes with medical emergencies?
  • Is the person you consider as your proxy the type of person who will ask questions until they understand the situation clearly?
  • Can the person make quick decisions under pressure?

The most crucial factor in choosing your proxy is trust. Don’t make your decision based on who you are closest to you. Who should be your healthcare proxy? Choose someone you know who can stand up for what you want.

While choosing two proxies is possible, it’s not recommended as it can cause disagreements between both parties. One decision-maker makes things quicker and easier in the heat of the moment.

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How to Make Someone Your Medical Proxy

The first step in how to make a healthcare proxy, of course, is to ask the person you’ve chosen to be your proxy if they are comfortable in that role. You should clarify what their responsibilities would be as your healthcare proxy to make an informed decision. Be prepared for the possibility that they say no and accept that answer if they do. You don’t want someone in that role who is reluctant to do so.

Once your proxy has agreed to the role, it’s a good idea to go over your wishes when it comes to various medical situations. Let them know if you want to be resuscitated, how long you might want to be on life support and what treatments, medications, and surgeries you are okay with in the event you can’t speak up yourself. Emphasize those things that are most important to you. For instance, if you have zero tolerance for the idea of being kept alive despite having no mobility and no hope for recovery, you might make it known how important it is to you to end life support in that situation.

How do you get a healthcare proxy form? Each state has a different process for how to assign a healthcare proxy. It will be a small part of a larger document in some states, such as an advance directive or a living will. Each state will have different paperwork to fill out to name a healthcare proxy, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with how to get healthcare proxy forms in your state. Many resources and printable forms are available on the internet that are valid in most states.

Once you locate the forms, how do you make someone a healthcare proxy? First, you’ll have to fill out the forms, and once you complete them, you’ll need two witnesses, not including yourself or the person you are naming as your proxy. Your witnesses will have to sign the documents. Once you’ve completed the forms according to their instructions, you’ll want to make copies for key people in your life. Your proxy will need a copy, and it can help to give a copy to your lawyer and your healthcare providers.

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Our content is created for educational purposes only. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Everdays encourages individuals to seek advice from their own investment or tax advisor or legal counsel.


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