No matter how healthy you are, there is always the risk that you will become incapacitated and unable to make healthcare decisions on your own. However, this is especially a concern for the elderly, and those with long-term health problems that may worsen at any time. That is why, if you are putting an estate plan together, you should seriously consider creating a healthcare proxy so that your wishes are honored if these situations arise.
What is a Healthcare Proxy?
A healthcare proxy is a type of legal arrangement where you appoint someone to make medical decisions for you, in the event that you are unable to make those decisions yourself. This person is given the legal authority to make any medical decisions that you would normally make for yourself, including consenting to tests and treatments on your behalf, authorizing medical procedures, and giving informed consent to surgeries. In the most extreme circumstances, you can also permit a healthcare proxy to consent to have you moved to palliative care, or to have you taken off of life support.
What Are the Benefits of a Healthcare Proxy?
The biggest benefit of a healthcare proxy is being able to choose someone you trust to make appropriate medical choices for you if you cannot do so yourself. Provided you have chosen someone you trust to honor your wishes with respect to your care, you can be certain that you will be treated the way you would want to be treated. It also helps avoid potentially costly legal disputes that can arise when there are disagreements among your children or other relatives over who should be dictating your care for you.
What if I Do Not Have a Healthcare Proxy?
If you do not have a healthcare proxy and become incapacitated, necessary medical treatments may be impeded if multiple family members compete with each other to give your treating doctors conflicting directions. The only remedy to that situation is for your loved ones to go to court to be legally appointed as your guardian. This process takes several months to complete even in the most basic cases. These proceedings can become very costly if there are disputes among your loved ones as to who should be your guardian or if one or more of your loved ones dispute whether you are incapacitated at all. A guardian is appointed by a court and may not necessarily be the person you would have chosen yourself to be in charge of your healthcare decisions. In some cases, especially where there are intense disputes among family members, the court-appointed guardian may be someone you don’t know at all, placing your life in the hands of a literal stranger.
How Does This Fit Into My Estate Plan?
A healthcare proxy is ultimately just one part of a more complete estate plan, and you should make sure you have everything ready to prepare for any eventuality. However, the only way to know for sure what you need is to speak to a lawyer with experience handling estate law matters. They can help you to devise an estate plan that suits your needs, and ensure that you and your loved ones will be taken care of.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones, and Sweeney understand that the aging population has specific and diverse needs. The firm helps seniors and their families by handling all aspects of elder law including guardianships, end of life planning, asset preservation, Medicaid planning, and trusts and estates issues. If you need to consult on elder law issues, call The Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney at (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.