New York health care proxies and living wills are important at any age

It is always difficult when a family member is seriously injured or hospitalized for a medical condition. The situation is especially distressing when loved ones are no longer able to make their own medical care decisions. Too often, it is at this point that some families first start to think about estate planning needs.

Creating an estate plan is important at any age. Most people think of wills when they think of estate planning but fail to realize that a will takes effect only upon death. There are other important steps that can be taken now to help you in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your medical treatment.

Health care proxy

A health care proxy - sometimes called a health care directive - is a document that allows you to designate who can make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. If you do not have a health care proxy and you reside in New York, the Family Health Care Decisions Act (FHCDA) establishes who may make decisions on your behalf from the following people in your life, in this order of priority:

  • Legal guardian
  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Adult child
  • Parent
  • Adult sibling
  • Close friend

The downside to letting the FHCDA determine who will be your health care agent is that the legal designee may be the last one you want deciding your fate. If you wish to designate who may be empowered to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining medical treatment, as well as make other important health care decisions, it is important to execute a health care proxy or a living will.

Living Will

A New York living will allows you to decline certain types of medical treatment if you are in a terminal condition, permanently unconscious or have a brain injury that impairs your ability to make your own decisions. With this legal document, you can direct medical personnel to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining medical treatment that would only serve to prolong your death. You may decide ahead of time that you want to receive the maximum amount of pain relief and that you do not want such treatment as:

  • Cardiac resuscitation
  • Mechanical respiration
  • Tube feeding
  • Antibiotic therapy

A living will also allows you to designate a health care agent and allows you to include other special instructions, if you wish.

A lawyer can help

Making end-of-life decisions can be very difficult and emotionally demanding. It is important to consult an experienced estate planning lawyer who can help you properly draft these documents. An attorney knowledgeable about wills, trusts and powers of attorney can put you at ease.