What Is A Health Care Proxy?

This is part of Cake’s collection of articles on advance care planning. Create your free Cake profile today to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

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A health care proxy (HCP) form is an advance directive document that lets you choose an individual ("health care agent") to make medical decisions for you in the event you can no longer speak for yourself.

Completing a health care proxy form makes it clear who you want to be making health care decisions if you cannot communicate your wishes. This can reduce conflict among family members or friends and ensure that someone you trust is making the best choices for your care. 

Who needs a health care proxy form?

Everyone 18 and older should have an HCP form.

What is a health care agent? How should I choose one?

This is a person you name on your HCP form to make medical decisions for you in the event that you cannot speak or make decisions for yourself. The agent's power is activated if a doctor determines that you are not able to make or communicate decisions for your own medical care.  This is generally referred to as being “incapacitated.” You can become incapacitated due to an accident, a medical emergency, or illness that causes you to lose consciousness or decision-making capability. Your agent's power to make medical decisions for you ends if a physician determines you are able to make decisions again or when you pass away.

Choosing the correct person to become your health care agent is an important part of advance care planning. This individual may have significant influence over the care you receive. Learn how to choose a good health care proxy (agent).

How do I name someone as my health care agent?

The process of naming a health care agent differs a bit depending on which state you live in. In most states, this requires the completion of a Health Care Proxy form or combined advance directive form to indicate your desired health care agent.

You do not need a lawyer to complete the HCP form or to make it legal, however, each state has slightly different requirements for making these forms legally binding.  Locate your state on our State Advance Directive resource page to learn more about how to make this form legal in your state.

Some states bundle the health care proxy form with a living will document. A living will allows you to note certain treatments that you do or do not want to receive or limit the authority of your health care agent in certain ways. If your state does not bundle these forms together, you should consider completing a living will to give your health care agent(s) and doctors more specific instruction about the types of care you want to receive or refuse. 

What decisions can a health care agent make on my behalf?

Though exact laws vary by state, agents are guaranteed certain rights, such as the right to be told about your illness, to know about the treatment options your doctor recommends along with their possible risks, and the right to consent to or deny any treatment. 

Naming someone to be your health care agent does not grant them any power over your financial assets, or any other aspect of your life beyond your medical care. They do not assume any financial responsibility for your care unless they are also your spouse or otherwise tied to your financial accounts. If you want to designate someone to make financial decisions, you will need to complete a Power of Attorney for finances document.

What should I do once I make my health care proxy form legal?

Share copies

After completing a health care proxy form,  you should keep a copy for your own records and give copies to:

  •          your health care agent(s)
  •          your lawyer
  •          your doctor
  •          other individuals who may be involved in your health or personal care, such as close family or caretakers

If you have a Cake account, it's easy to share access to your Health Care Proxy document. Simply upload a copy of your document to the Documents section of your Cake account and ensure you have shared your profile with loved ones so they can access it in the event of an emergency. Don't have a Cake account? Create your free Cake end-of-life planning account today.

Talk to your health care agent 

Talk to your health care agent(s) about what is important to you when it comes to the kinds of medical care and treatments you want to receive. Make sure they understand you.

Is a health care proxy decision permanent?

No! You can change your mind at any time. Just complete a new health care proxy form and communicate these changes to your old health care agent, your new agent, your physicians, and your family members.  Be sure to destroy old copies and ensure your new agent and your physicians receive copies of your new health care proxy document. 

Do I need a new health care proxy form if I move?

Your health care proxy form might be recognized across state lines if your form complies with that state’s laws. However, if you move permanently or have residences in different states you should fill out your new state’s forms to ensure you are compliant with their requirements. 

What happens if I don't complete a health care proxy form?

If you are incapacitated and did not already name a health care agent with a health care proxy form, your attending physician will appoint someone to make decisions for you. This is called a health care surrogate. It is different from a health care agent in that you are not involved in making the decision as to who will assume the role. The surrogate may be a spouse, family member, or friend who is available and willing to make decisions for you. In the event multiple people are available to assume this role, the attending physician(s) will decide who is most competent to take on the role.  In the event physicians are unable to locate next of kin, a state-appointed entity may be chosen to assume this role. 

It is important to designate a health care agent to ensure someone that understands your values and preferences is making decisions on your behalf.