Legal Information

Health Care Proxy & Living Will

Health care proxy:
Under New York law, an individual may appoint someone she trusts, for example, a family member or close friend, to decide about medical treatment if she loses the ability to decide for herself. She can do this by using a health care proxy in which a health care agent is appointed to make sure that health care providers follow her wishes. The agent can also decide how her wishes apply as her medical condition changes. Hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and other health care professionals must follow the agents' decisions as if they were the patients'. The individual can give her health care agent as little or as much authority as she wants. She can allow the agent to decide about all health care or only certain treatments.

What is the difference between a living will and health care proxy?
A living will is a written statement of an individual's wishes regarding medical treatment. The statement is to be followed if the individual is unable to provide instructions at the time medical decisions need to be made. The health care proxy is significantly different from the living will in that it empowers another person (the agent) to make health care decisions if the patient cannot do so herself. The living will, on the other hand, has no such provision but enables a person to express her own choices regarding medical treatment. It makes sense to utilize both a living will and a health care proxy.

Do you have to write an advance directive?
No. Signing a living will or health care proxy is voluntary. No one can require an individual to complete either directive.

Note: The approved New York State Health Care Proxy is available on the Internet in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian at New York State Department of Health, Consumer Information.

There are various living wills available. One of the more popular is available through the Partnership for Caring.