One of the first questions I ask new clients is, Do you have a healthcare proxy ? This is one of the most important documents you can have when going to the doctor or hospital. A designated healthcare proxy is the person who will make medical decisions when you are incapacitated or incompetent. It is important to have someone who knows what you would want medically in times of crisis.
The person who will be the healthcare proxy, needs to be someone you trust to make medical decisions in your best interest. Hopefully, a discussion about the parameters of care have been discussed. For instance, do you want to be resuscitated? Do you want to be on a ventilator? Do you want to be on life support? Do you want to have hospice care if you are terminally ill? The person chosen can be a family member or friend. I advise having a back up person listed in case the primary proxy is unavailable. Often a parent, will choose as the primary, their spouse and then name a child as the secondary.
If there is no proxy in place before a hospitalization, it is not too late. Hospitals generally want a proxy available and have the paper work. Do not let anyone from the hospital staff be named a proxy. It is a conflict of interest. As long as a person is mentally competent, a healthcare proxy can be executed. However, once someone is incompetent, a healthcare proxy can not be done or changed. At that point it is necessary to go to court and get a guardianship which is complicated and can be costly.
I advise children of elderly parents to know, who is the parents proxy? I find many times the parents have not informed their children of the document. The elderly are often at risk from hospital and facility administrators, who will petition the courts for guardianship or conservatorships if there is any question who is making decisions. This means the administrators will make all the decisions medically and financially. It is a nightmare to get reversed.
Here are steps to get the healthcare proxy: 1. To get a healthcare proxy form, either ask your lawyer, doctor or download it from the state website. For example, in NY http://www.health.ny.gov/professionals/patients/health_care_proxy/
2. Fill out the form with naming designated persons.
3. Get it notarized.
4. Give copies to the designated healthcare proxy, family members and primary care doctor.
5. Keep it with all medical documents.
6. Make sure to take it any hospital procedures including MRI testing.
7. The healthcare proxy can be changed at any time.