Choosing Alternate Health Care Proxies: Designating Backup Decision-Makers

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What Does a Health Care Proxy Do?

The circumstances of your life can change rapidly. When faced with a medical emergency, a terminal illness, or cognitive decline due to advanced age, you may find yourself unable to make your wishes known regarding your medical care. Utilizing a health care proxy to assign an agent familiar with your preferences for medical and end-of-life treatments can ensure that you will always be cared for in the way you want.

The agent you designate only assumes the role of legal decision-maker for all your medical care needs if your doctor determines you have become incapacitated and cannot make your own decisions. Your health care agent is not responsible for paying for your medical bills, and they are not tasked with overseeing your finances. Their role is solely to evaluate your medical situation and make the treatment decisions they believe are in your best interests.

Acting as an agent can be a heavy responsibility. Your first choice of agent may be unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties due to illness, injury, unfitness for the position, or other factors. Selecting one or more alternate health care agents ensures you have a trusted individual to make choices on your behalf if the worst should happen. A knowledgeable New York health care proxy lawyer can help you draft a clear and detailed document to designate your agent(s) and outline your treatment preferences so you and your loved ones have the peace of mind you deserve. 

How Do You Designate Health Care Agents?

The documents you put in place to guide your future medical care if you cannot do so on your own are known as advance directives. These documents can include a living will, a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), and a health care proxy. A New York health care proxy form can be used to appoint your health care agent and alternates. It can also provide further details about your treatment wishes if you choose. The document does not need to be notarized. However, to make it legally enforceable, you must sign it in front of two adult witnesses. After creating the document, you should provide your doctor with a copy to place in your medical record and give copies to your chosen agent(s) and lawyer. 

When Can an Alternate Health Care Agent Take Over From the Designated Agent?

Your first choice of health care agent will automatically be given the ability to access your medical information and direct your treatment upon a doctor’s assessment that you are no longer capable of making your own decisions. This individual will continue to have this responsibility until your recovery or passing. Your alternate agent will only be empowered to make health care decisions for you under certain circumstances, including:

  • The unavailability or unwillingness of the original agent to act, with confirmation in writing by your doctor.
  • Disqualification of the first-choice agent by the court.

You can also use your health care proxy document to specify situations where you would like your alternate agent to assume the right to act. For example, you may wish to appoint a secondary agent in the event your first choice is living outside the state or country. This detail could prevent untimely delays in treatment decisions and reduce the stress on your loved ones. However, wording the proxy carefully and clearly with the assistance of a skilled lawyer is vital to avoiding confusion and family disagreements during an already difficult and emotionally charged time.

What Should You Consider When Picking Someone to Act as an Agent or Alternate?

Your agent and alternates must be competent adults whom you trust to make potentially difficult medical decisions on your behalf. Many people appoint their spouse, adult child, other relative, lawyer, or close friend to serve as an agent. You should feel comfortable discussing your end-of-life and palliative care wishes with this person so they understand your preferences and can act accordingly. You may also choose to include clear instructions in your health care proxy or draft a separate living will to ensure there is no ambiguity about your stance on certain treatments and situations, such as feeding tubes, life support, and organ donation. This information can help guide your agent when they are faced with challenging decisions.

The potential agent’s tolerance for discomfort or conflict should also be considered if you have close family members with strong opinions that differ from your personal preferences. You will want to appoint someone who will always act in your best interests despite outside pressures. Some individuals may not want to take on this role for a variety of reasons, so it is crucial to discuss your plan with the potential agent prior to drafting your health care proxy to make certain they are willing and able to act when necessary.

Can You Make Changes To Your Proxy?

You can always change your health care proxy by completing a new form. It is highly recommended to review your proxy every few years and after major life events, such as a divorce, marriage, or diagnosis of terminal illness, to be sure it still meets your needs. If you appointed your spouse as your health care agent or alternate, that designation is automatically canceled upon divorce or legal separation. If you want that individual to continue serving in that capacity, you must create a new document stating your decision.

How Can Our Legal Team Help You Protect Your Health?

Planning for your future health needs is essential at any stage of your life. Drafting a health care proxy as part of an overall estate plan can be a compassionate gift to your loved ones. By appointing a trusted and well-informed individual to act for you when you are unable to direct your own care, you can prevent unnecessary stress and painful family disagreements while making certain your preferences are honored.

An experienced lawyer from Davidov Law Group can help you ensure that your health care proxy covers all eventualities and gives clear guidance regarding your values and wishes to your agent and alternate(s). We aim to build strong, lasting relationships with our clients and ensure their plans adjust and grow as their lives change. To learn how we can serve you, contact our law firm today at 516-253-1366.

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