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Completing your Health Care Proxy

In New York State, if you are age 18 or older, the advance directive to complete is the Health Care Proxy (HCP). The New York State form has easy-to-follow directions and answers to some common questions.

The purpose of the health care proxy is for you to appoint someone (the “health care agent”) who can represent you in case you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself (do not have “capacity” as determined by a doctor). You can also appoint an alternate agent. Only one person can act as your agent at any one time. The alternate agent is called if your primary health care agent is unable to serve.

A medical provider may declare that someone does not have capacity to make medical decisions for him or herself if the person is unconscious, has had a major stroke, has advanced dementia, or is otherwise not able to understand the decisions and consequences at hand.

Your health care agent has the authority to make decisions regarding your health care related to life support and medical treatments, unless you write out different instructions on the health care proxy form. If you want your agent to make decisions about artificial nutrition and hydration (nourishment and fluids by feeding tube and intravenous (IV) line), you need to specify this in Item #4 on the health care proxy form by writing: “My agent and alternate agent know my wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration.”

The health care proxy form needs to be signed by two witnesses who are age 18 or older (and cannot be the health care agent or alternate agent listed on the form). When you have completed your form, make several copies. Keep one in a safe place at home. Give one copy each to your health care agent, alternate agent, physicians, family members, and any others who may be involved in your care. Go over the document with each person who gets a copy and discuss your choices.

  • You do not need a lawyer to complete a New York State Health Care Proxy form.
  • The form does not need to be notarized.
  • All copies of the form are as valid as the original.
  • Your health care proxy remains in effect until you sign a new form.

To make your health care proxy as valuable and efficient as possible in case of an unexpected serious medical issue or at the end of life, it is important to have ongoing conversations about your choices with your family and physicians.

Do you also need a Living Will? A Living Will:

  • is not a substitute for a health care proxy
  • is an advance directive that specifies, in writing, your wishes for care at the end of life
  • may help guide someone making health care decisions for you

Learn more about Living Wills in New York State