What is a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy – sometimes called a health care surrogate or agent – is someone you appoint to make health care decisions for you if you cannot decide on your own. It is part of your Advance Healthcare Directive (AHCD) and an essential component of estate planning.

Why Is Having a Health Care Proxy Important?

A health care proxy can make medical decisions for you if you are ever incapacitated. It is an important part of end-of-life care.

Your proxy should be familiar with your wishes and values so they can make the treatment decisions you would want. When choosing a health care proxy, it’s important to name someone who shares your views about life and medical decisions.

People to Consider as Your Health Care Proxy
  • A family member
  • A friend
  • Your lawyer
  • A leader or member of your religious community

A health care proxy can help you plan for unexpected crises such as an auto accident or severe medical emergency like a disabling stroke. A proxy can speak for your wishes on how and when treatment should proceed.

Decisions a Health Care Proxy May Make for You
  • Whether to provide you with CPR
  • Whether to authorize placing you on a ventilator
  • Artificial nutrition (tube feeding)
  • Artificial hydration (IV fluids)
  • Comfort care – end-of-life care
Source: National Institute on Aging

Your health care proxy can evaluate each situation and treatment that might occur and carry out your wishes.

You can choose a health care proxy instead of or in addition to a living will. But it’s very important to have a living will if you do not name a health care proxy.

Medicare — specifically coverage under Medicare Part B — will cover the cost of your advance care planning when you visit your doctor for your annual wellness checkup. There, you can ask questions about health care proxies and share any concerns.

How Do You Legally Name a Health Care Proxy?

You name your health care proxy through a legal document called a durable power of attorney.

This document is one of several AHCDs that include living wills and other legal actions to define your wishes for end-of-life care.

A lawyer can help you with the legal forms you will need to fill out, but it is not necessary to go through an attorney.

Update Your Directives
You should review your advance directives every few years, at least once every 10 years. Your views, values and wishes may change from time to time – as can your health situation. You should also review and consider making changes after a serious diagnosis or if your family situation changes through marriage, divorce or death of a spouse.
Source: National Institute on Aging

Once you have completed your forms – according to the laws of your state – share copies with your health care proxy and any alternate proxy you name. You should also give a copy of all directives to your doctor to include in your medical records.

Keep a list of everyone who has a copy so you can send updated versions if you ever change your directives.

How Do Health Care Proxy Laws Vary by State or Jurisdiction?

Rules and forms for naming a health care proxy vary from state to state. Some states may require your forms to be witnessed or the signatures to be notarized.

If you frequently travel between states – to a summer home or to visit grandchildren – it’s a good idea to prepare health care proxy and other AHCD forms in each state where you routinely stay.

Check Your State Rules
Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find the right Advance Healthcare Directive forms for your state. You find the office nearest you through the Eldercare Locator online or by calling toll-free at 1-800-667-1116.
Source: Eldercare Locator, U.S. Administration on Aging

Some states can store your health care proxy information and your other AHCDs in a state database or registry. This allows quick access to your directives by doctors, hospitals, your health care proxy and others you’ve permitted.

What Is the Difference Between a Health Care Proxy and a Power of Attorney?

Some people confuse a health care proxy with a durable or medical power of attorney. Both are important pieces of your estate planning, but they are two different things.

Power of attorney:
Allows someone that you legally name to act in your place for financial matters if you become incapacitated.
Health care proxy:
A person you name who makes health care decisions for you when you are incapacitated.

Your proxy can make your health care decisions, but the person given power of attorney has to agree to pay for them. It would be best to make sure the people you choose for each are on the same page as you.

Alternatively, you can name one person to serve as both your proxy and as your agent.

Last Modified: August 27, 2021

5 Cited Research Articles

  1. Davis, C.P. (2021, March 29). Medical Definition of Health Care Proxy. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/health_care_proxy/definition.htm
  2. Elder Law Answers. (2019, October 18). What’s a Health Care Proxy and Why Do I Need One? Retrieved from https://www.elderlawanswers.com/whats-a-health-care-proxy-and-why-do-i-need-one-6070
  3. National Institute on Aging. (2018, January 15). Advance Care Planning: Health Care Directives. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/advance-care-planning-health-care-directives
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Glossary. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/training/ACP/page32360.html
  5. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. (n.d.). How to Choose a Health Care Proxy and How to Be a Health Care Proxy. Retrieved from https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ALTSA/stakeholders/documents/duals/toolkit/Health%20Care%20Proxy.pdf