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What is a health care proxy?

In the sometimes confusing world of California estate planning, the confusion often comes from the same type of documents being called different names. Such is the case when it comes to your health care proxy. explains that a health care proxy can also be known as a durable health care power of attorney, appointment of health care agent or surrogate, or a living will.

Only an experienced estate planning attorney can tell you whether or not California differentiates among documents bearing any of these names, and if so, how. (S)he can also tell you exactly what provisions your health care proxy needs to include and under what circumstances it will come into play.

Health care proxy document contents

In general, a health care proxy document contains the following:

  • Your preferences, as detailed as you want to make them, as to what medical treatments and interventions you want and do not want when you are too ill, injured or otherwise incapacitated to express your desires yourself
  • Who you want to act as your health care proxy, i.e., your agent who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself
  • Whether or not you want your health care proxy to have access to your medical records

Choosing your health care proxy

It goes without saying that the person you name as your health care proxy must be someone who you not only trust implicitly, but who also knows, understands and respects your health care wishes and has the assertiveness to carry them out for you.

Before designating a health care proxy, make sure (s)he knows the following:

  • Your personal attitudes regarding your health, your death, and the way in which you want or do not want to die
  • Your religious beliefs that impact your health care decisions
  • Your personal attitudes regarding palliative care versus life-sustaining care
  • Your personal attitudes regarding the various types of health care providers and facilities

Even if you and your desired health care proxy see eye-to-eye on everything you tell him or her regarding your health care preferences, you would do well to name an alternate person in your health care proxy document after having the same discussions with him or her as you did with your first choice. This ensures that should your preferred person be unable to fulfill his or her duties in carrying out your wishes when the time comes because of his or her own incapacity, your back-up proxy will assume those duties instead.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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