Estate Planning Isn’t Just For The Elderly

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How to relay your medical preferences in a health care proxy

By: Lauren C. Enea, Esq.

A health care proxy is a legal document where you can appoint another person (called an “agent”) to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions yourself. Anyone in your life can be appointed as your health care agent as long as they are over the age of eighteen and have the capacity to act.  You can also name successor agents, in the event the person you appoint pre-deceases you or is unable to act as your agent.  Appointing someone is a fairly straightforward process and can be invaluable in the event of incapacity, as the appointment of an agent for medical decision making can avoid the need for a Guardianship Proceeding or court intervention if you are unable to make medical decisions yourself. The form must be signed by the creator in front of two disinterested witnesses who are adults, over the age of eighteen and have capacity to sign legal documents.

When setting up a health care proxy, it is also important to consider the following:

  • Establish what you truly want by thoroughly deliberating your priorities and principles. Some people may find it challenging to think about these issues, but it could be essential if you are making end-of-life preparations. Being clear about what treatments you want to refuse and which you would be willing to receive can help your agent make swift decisions if you unexpectedly become unable to express them yourself. The health care proxy allows you to state specific wishes, treatments, medications you would or would not want, or alternatively, you can state in your health care proxy form that your agent shall have authority to make medical decisions “in accordance with my wishes as he / she knows.”  This gives your agent flexibility to make decisions in accordance with your wishes as you have advised them.  It is important to communicate with your agent what types of medical treatments and medications you would or would not want, as well as for your agent to have a basic understanding of your medical history and conditions. The more your agent knows and understands your medical history and current conditions, the better he or she will be able to advocate for you.
  • Share your preferences and other instructions with people you trust. Having this conversation could be difficult for your family members or friends, but these people might be the only ones who would uphold your wishes. Your agent can be the person to enforce your instructions, but informing other people can help support what you genuinely want. Your agent can also turn to these other trusted family members or friends for guidance and support in making decisions for you.
  • Speak to a health care provider who can enable the arrangement when necessary. In addition to choosing an agent, you should inform your physicians that you have signed a health care proxy and it even may be prudent to provide them with a copy.  Your physician, your agent, and in some situations even other family members can keep a copy of your form, which can be helpful during emergencies. We also recommend keeping a copy of your health care proxy on your refrigerator or posted on the inside of your front door, in the event a paramedic and/or first responder needs to obtain contact information in the event of an emergency.

End-of-life matters can be challenging to navigate, especially if you are incapacitated and your family members have no idea what you would want. In these scenarios, pre-planning and having documents such as a health care proxies are very practical. In the long run, planning and preparing these setups can benefit your welfare and help those you love navigate your care with ease.


* Lauren C. Enea, Esq. is an Associate at Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP.  She concentrates her practice on Wills, Trusts and Estates, Medicaid Planning, Special Needs Planning and Probate/Estate Administration. She believes that it is never too early or too late to start planning for your future and she enjoys working with individuals and families to ensure that their estate and long- term care plan best suits their needs. Ms. Enea is on the executive committee of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Elder Law and Special Needs Section and is also the Co-Editor of the NYSBA Elder Law and Special Needs Section Journal.  She is admitted to practice law in New York and Florida. She can be reached at 914-948-1500.


Enea, Scanlan & Sirignano, LLP