How to Choose the Right Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy, also known as a durable medical power of attorney, is a legal document that identifies someone you designate as an agent who makes medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them for yourself. This scenario may arise from a serious illness or accident leading to a coma, for example.

Selecting the person who will take on this role is not an easy task. You’ll want to consider a variety of different factors.

  • Do they live relatively close by so they can easily travel to/from the medical facility where you are likely to receive care?
  • Are they able to effectively communicate with medical personnel?
  • Are they aware of your religion’s beliefs and practices concerning treatment options?
  • Do they share your views on how you want to live your life?
  • If there is a conflict with others over your medical care, will this person be able to uphold your wishes, or might they cave under pressure?

As you can see, there are several details that go into making the right choice for a healthcare proxy. This article will discuss them, and suggest how working with an attorney to help you decide might be wise.

Why Is this Important?

This agent you choose to be a healthcare proxy is important if you want to have your medical preferences followed, especially if you are unable to communicate them to the people treating you. We find that many folks incorrectly believe that they don’t need to create a living will (also known as an advance directive) or even think about such matters when they’re younger and healthy. But the problem with this misconception is that life is unpredictable, and accidents happen to the young and old alike. If you don’t make your wishes known– and designate a person to enforce them — others may make healthcare decisions that you disagree with. Or worse, family members with differing views about how to care for you may wind up fighting years-long legal battles.

Let’s take a look at some potential scenarios that can occur if you don’t consider all relevant factors when deciding who to choose as your healthcare proxy:

  • You name your best friend, Alison, as your healthcare proxy. She has a medical background and is a go-with-the-flow type of person. Unfortunately, your Aunt Susan is very opinionated. What will Alison do if Aunt Susan disagrees with your medical treatment, even though Alison is just following what you requested?
  • You decide to make your brother David your healthcare proxy because of his strong work ethic to get things done. He also doesn’t let anyone push him around. But he tends to go with his gut when making decisions and does this when asked to make treatment choices for you. How can you trust that he will abide by your wishes?
  • You select your cousin Steve, who you grew up with and who has always been there for you, to be your proxy. His unreliable work schedule as a flight attendant means that he may not even be in the country if something suddenly happens to you. What if he needs to make a quick decision about a life-threatening condition but he’s on a plane with no cell phone service?
  • You choose your sister Amy as the healthcare proxy, but you don’t discuss whether or not she agrees with the use of a feeding tube. Then you’re injured in a serious accident and she must decide whether to keep or remove your tube. What if she disapproves of this treatment and tells the doctor to remove it even though you would have wanted it to remain in?

These situations are entirely possible. Although healthcare proxies receive instructions about medical care preferences for things like life-supporting interventions, there is no guarantee that they’ll be followed. These problems and countless others are why you need to think through this big decision, and why it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney when making this designation.

Why Your Spouse Might not be the Best Choice

Most people automatically select their spouse or partner to be their healthcare proxy, since that’s typically who they live with and are closest to. While it’s understandable to make this choice, there are times when it might not be the best idea.

Because a spouse/partner cares so much for their loved one, they can make emotionally driven medical decisions rather than follow instructions outlined in a living will. For example, a husband might refuse to remove life support because he can’t accept the loss of his wife, even though she explicitly requested that life support be turned off if there is little chance of her survival. Although it’s great that they care for the person who chose them, a healthcare proxy needs to remain objective and be able to follow one’s wishes – even if that’s difficult to do.

For this reason, sometimes it might be better to pick a different person, even outside of the family for similar reasons to a spouse. A close friend or even a trusted colleague may be a good alternative, especially if they have a medical background. This will allow them to better understand specific health-related situations and communicate on a professional level with the medical staff in charge of the person’s care.

How Does a Divorce Affect a Healthcare Proxy?

It’s important to know how to handle a healthcare proxy in a divorce. While a power of attorney is revoked once a divorce is finalized, there is a period before the divorce is finalized where someone may not want their soon-to-be ex-spouse having the authority that these documents grant. That’s why anyone in the process of getting divorced should speak with an estate planning attorney if they want to ensure that this designation is changed to someone else during the in-between timeframe.

How Can Rosenblum Law Help?

It’s best to discuss the selection of a healthcare proxy with an estate planning attorney. An attorney is both impartial and experienced in helping people make this decision. They know what makes for a potentially poor proxy choice, and the right questions to ask about proxy candidates. The process will be less complicated and perhaps less likely to give rise to legal issues in the future.

Rosenblum Law makes all aspects of estate planning easy for its clients, including the healthcare proxy designation. We offer affordable flat-fee pricing, as well as options for those with more complicated estate issues. No situation is beyond our firm’s expertise, no matter how complex. Call us today for a free consultation at 888-815-3649 to get the process started.

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