Health-Care Proxies & Living Wills


What is a health-care proxy?
Under New York law an individual may appoint someone she trusts — for example, a family member or close friend — to decide about treatment if she loses the ability to decide for herself. She can do this by using a health-care proxy in which she appoints her health-care agent to make sure that health-care providers follow her wishes. Her agent can also decide how her wishes apply as her medical condition changes. Hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and other health-care professionals must follow the agent’s decisions as if they were the patient’s. The individual can give her health-care agent as little or as much authority as she wants. She can allow the agent to decide about all health care or only certain treatments.

What is the difference between a living will and health-care proxy?
A living will is a written statement of an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment. The statement is to be followed if the individual is unable to provide instructions when medical decisions need to be made. A health-care proxy is significantly different from a living will in that it empowers another person (the agent) to make health-care decisions if the patient cannot do so herself.

Should I have both a living will and health-care proxy?
A living will has no provision for an agent; it simply enables a person to express her own choices regarding medical treatment. Having both a living will and a health-care proxy makes sense.

Can an agent, acting under a health-care proxy, be legally or financially liable for health-care decisions made on your behalf?
No. A health-care agent will not be liable for treatment decisions made in good faith. In addition, the agent cannot be held liable for the costs of care just because she is an agent.

Do you have to write an advance directive?
No. Signing a living will or health-care proxy is voluntary. No one can require an individual to complete either directive.

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