In Elder Law News

Senior woman wearing mask sitting on hospital bed while doctor wearing mask fills out form.Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff work hard to care for their patients when they are sick or hurt. However, even when a procedure is done to save a patient’s life, a hospital cannot act without patient consent. If a patient cannot speak for themselves and express their wishes, the hospital relies on what is known as a health care proxy form.

If you have ever been admitted to the hospital, you have likely been asked to sign a health care proxy form. Hospitals use proxy forms to obtain consent in advance from patients in case they become incapacitated and medical professionals need to administer medication, perform surgery, or otherwise treat the patient. However, the generic version used by most hospitals can fall short for many patients and may infringe upon their autonomy. Always be cautious when you sign a boilerplate document.

What Is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy is a form that a patient uses to name an agent who will carry out their wishes regarding medical care if the patient cannot speak for themselves. Having a health care proxy specifically tailored to your needs can be important. For example, you can outline what kind of treatment you do — or do not want — if you become terminally ill or are in a coma; at the same time, you can indicate other wishes, such as whether you would want pain medication administered or your organs donated.

The agent only has the power to make decisions on the patient's behalf once a doctor confirms that the patient requires medical attention but cannot advocate for themselves. The agent's power ends when the patient can once again state their treatment preferences. Appointing an alternate agent is a good idea, too.

What Is the Problem with Signing a Generic Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy is important because it instructs your agent to speak for you and, if well-written, it will give specific instructions about what medical treatments you want and which treatments you refuse. An estate plan is not complete unless it includes a health care proxy form.

The problem with relying on the generic health care proxy form the hospital provides is that, in some cases, these forms will not take your individual wishes into account. Every person treated at the emergency room or admitted into the hospital signs the same health care proxy form. Anything that could have a life-or-death consequence should be tailored to you and specifically address your needs.

If you have a health care proxy, inform the hospital staff so they can make the document a part of your medical record.

How Can I Complete My Own Health Care Proxy?

Part of creating an estate plan is having a health care proxy drafted. If you have not created an estate plan or health care proxy, contact your attorney to draft the estate planning documents that you need.

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