New York residents should include health care proxies and living wills in their estate plans.
When you think of estate planning, you probably think of wills, trusts, estate taxes and similar matters. You may not think about health care decisions. However, a health care proxy and a living will are important parts of a comprehensive estate plan.
Health care proxy
A health care proxy is a document that allows you to appoint a health care agent to make decisions about medical care you receive when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. A proxy can take effect when you are temporarily incapacitated, such as when you are under general anesthesia for a surgery and an issue arises needing a decision. Since you are under anesthesia, a health care agent would make the decision for you. A proxy can also take effect in situations of long-term incapacity, such as being in a long-term vegetative state or suffering dementia.
Health care providers are obligated to follow your health care agent’s decisions as if they were yours. You may limit your health care agent’s authority by restricting the types of decisions your agent can make, or leaving written directions in your health care proxy that your agent must follow. Your health care proxy can also document your wishes about tissue and organ donation.
A health care proxy is different from a living will. A living will, or advance health care directive, is a document that contains your written wishes with respect to the medical care you want to receive in certain situations. In situations where you have a terminal condition with no hope of any meaningful recovery, a living will can address whether you want to be resuscitated, be on a feeding tube or ventilator or have health care workers take similar extraordinary measures if you cannot voice your wishes.
One of the drawbacks of a living will is that a living will cannot address all situations that could possibly arise. As such, it is wise to appoint a health care agent with a health care proxy in addition to drafting a living will. That way your agent can make decisions about issues that your living will does not cover.
Appointing a health care proxy
Choosing someone to make medical decisions on your behalf is an important matter. You need to make sure that you choose a person with whom you can freely discuss your wishes about medical care and someone you are sure will follow your wishes, even though they may differ from their own choices. After deciding whom you want to name as your health care agent, you should consult with an experienced New York estate planning attorney who can help you incorporate your health care proxy and living will into your estate plan.