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The role of a health care agent in New York

While you may have a good idea of how you want medical care to be given out if you need it, it's wise to make sure that someone else also knows and has the power to make decisions on your behalf, in accordance with your wishes. In New York, this person is referred to as a health care agent, and you need to legally put them in charge of your decision.

The thing about health care that makes it tricky is that you may not be in a position to tell doctors what you really want. If sickness or an injury means that you are in a coma, you have no way to communicate to them about what life-saving devices you want to be used, for example. If you don't want to be kept alive with a life support system, you can't inform them.

As you age, you may also struggle with mental issues--such as dementia--that make it impossible for you to properly convey your wishes. You may lose touch with what is happening or make irrational choices.

If no one else has been given the legal power to instruct the doctors, they do not have any way of knowing how they should proceed. While family members or close friends may feel they know what you'd want, these feelings alone do not always allow them to make choices and give instructions. You have to turn that power over to them beforehand, which ensures that the right choices will actually be made.

As you're doing your estate planning, make sure that you remember to consider things outside of merely the division of your wealth, such as appointing a health care agent.

Source: New York State Department of Health, "Health Care Proxy: Appointing Your Health Care Agent in New York State," accessed April. 02, 2015

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