Older adults can name someone to make healthcare decisions for them, if they become seriously ill or injured and are unable to make or communicate their own decisions.
The legal document that names a person's back-up healthcare decision-maker can be called a:
Medical power of attorney
Durable power of attorney for healthcare
Appointment of healthcare agent
The person who is the back-up decision-maker can be called a proxy, healthcare agent or medical power of attorney.
Naming a healthcare proxy helps older adults plan for emergencies, like serious car accidents or major illness.
The healthcare proxy is a relative or friend who:
Has talked with the older adult about values and care preferences
Will make healthcare decisions based on the older adult's wishes
Generally understands the older adult's health situation
Has copies of the older adult's advance directive, living will or other health-related legal documents
When older adults name a healthcare proxy, they must be "of sound mind" and able to make their own choices.
If an older adult hasn't named a healthcare proxy and becomes unable to make healthcare decisions, their nearest relative can be their decision-maker in many states. Some states allow a close friend to become their decision-maker. Courts might get involved if family or others close to the older adult can't agree on treatment decisions or how to make them.