This is a question we hear all the time. And the short answer is, yes, you really do need a Health Care Proxy, along with all of the other documents that go together to put your estate planning “house” in order.
A Health Care Proxy is a document in which you name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to communicate with your doctor. I always tell my clients that if they can blink “one” for “yes,” and “two” for “no,” that they are still in charge.
If you don’t have a Health Care Proxy, who will make those medical decisions for you in the event of an emergency, like a car accident or sudden illness? In New York, just like in many other states, the law says it is your “next of kin” – but who is that?
If you’re married, it may be your spouse. If you’re not married, or your spouse cannot be reached, it may be one of your parents or siblings.
Is this the person you want making life and death decisions for you? Or even deciding which hospital the ambulance brings you to, if there’s a choice? Do you agree with this person’s ideas about medical treatment and interactions with medical providers? Do you even know what those ideas are? What if you have two siblings who disagree about what course your treatment should take? Or just plain don’t get along?
Health Care Proxies are especially important when you are not satisfied with the “default” decision-maker set up by law.
Same-sex couples ran into this problem early on: a lifetime partner of the same gender would frequently be excluded from the hospital room where the other partner lay dying, because a parent or sibling didn’t “approve” of the relationship. This situation (and the chaos and tragedy that can ensue) is completely preventable with a Health Care Proxy, as well as other important documents like a Power of Attorney and a Designation of Burial Agent.
A Health Care Proxy is a simple way to ensure that your wishes are carried out, even when you are not able to speak up for yourself.