A healthcare proxy, sometimes called a medical power of attorney, gives your spouse or other designated agent the legal authority to make healthcare decisions if you cannot do so yourself. This tool, if properly drafted, allows your wishes to be followed even when you are incapable of communicating them.

Typically, couples will name each other as primary health care agent and name another person as a back-up. The health care proxy does not confer any powers to the health care agent until the person creating the power (the principal) is actually unable to make or communicate health care decisions. If the power comes into use, the principal’s doctor must comply with the directions of the health care agent. Without a health care proxy in place, your loved one may have to go to court to have a conservator named in order to direct your health care treatment, a process that can be both time consuming and expensive.

A health care proxy is an essential part of the basic estate plan because it not only protects you when you are aged or terminally ill but also when you are unexpectedly incapacitated due to a non-life-threatening injury. Imagine, for example, that you were in a car accident and are in a coma. You very well may recover, but in the meantime you will need someone to make important health decisions for you. Knowing that the person you trust most with those decisions has the power to act for you immediately and without judicial interference is what peace of mind is all about.

Contact an estate planning attorney to discuss how you can ensure that your health is well cared for.