Why You Need a Health Care Proxy!

When most people hear the phrase financial planning, they mostly think money management, budgeting, investments, etc. But financial planning also encompasses things like insurance, retirement planning, and estate planning.

Estate planning, you say. Don’t you have to have an estate to plan for one?

For a lot of what goes into estate planning, it does help to have an actual estate. But estate planning also covers some very important legal issues that actually could be a matter of life or death. Not to freak you out or anything.

One important document we always make sure our clients have drafted is a health care proxy. A health care proxy form designates someone to act as your agent in case you become unable to speak for yourself, i.e. you are knocked unconscious from an accident, you are under general anesthesia and something unexpected happens while you are under, etc.

But wouldn’t my family just be my health care proxy by default if I didn’t have one drafted?

There is a default, or “surrogate” proxy, usually a spouse or family member, that is appointed if you don’t have a health care proxy. There are issues with this as well. What if the default proxy is not someone you want to be making decisions for you or family members disagree about what should be done? Think Terry Schiavo circa 1998-2005 (as in that’s how long her husband and parents were in court fighting over what should be done).

The order of default surrogates for NY State is as follows:
– Court-appointed guardian (if you’re under 18)
– Spouse or domestic partner
– An adult child
– A parent
– A brother or sister
– A close friend

Now if you’re looking at this list and thinking you do not want the next person in line to be responsible for making these decisions for you, or if you want to make sure there is no question what your wishes would be and who should be carrying them out, you should complete a health care proxy form.

It’s actually a really simple form and most states have a specific template you can complete. There is a place to designate your health care proxy, an alternate proxy, if you wish, and usually a few lines where you can include some specific decisions you would like carried out in the event of your incapacity.

You also need to scrounge up two witnesses to sign at the bottom of the form. The form for the NY State Health Care Proxy is here: www.health.ny.gov/forms/doh-1430.pdf

Okay, I filled it out! Now what do I do with it?

You should definitely give a copy to the agent(s) you appointed on your form. If you have a general physician you see regularly, they should also have a copy. You should keep a copy for yourself (and put it in a place where you’ll be able to find it later!) and also have an extra copy or two in case you are going in for some inpatient care or a surgery where you will be knocked unconscious. Whew. That’s a lot of copies.

This is not a must do for everyone. If you looked at the list above and thought, oh good, that’s who I would want to make decisions for me, then you should be fine, although, my real advice would be do it anyway. It takes a few minutes to complete and some time at a copy machine.

The last thing you want to happen in case something really happens, is for there to be any question as to who can make these critical decisions for you.

Not to freak you out or anything.

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