Under New York's Health Care Proxy Law, any competent person can authorize another person (often a family member) to make health care decisions, if the patient becomes unable to do so.
You do this by completing the standard health care proxy form, noting the person you are designating to make decisions, noting any specific decision that you want the person you are designating to make, and by signing the document in front of two witnesses.
Although both a health care proxy and a living will are advance directives, there are specific differences between the two.
A living will is a document that contains your health care wishes and is addressed to unnamed family, friends, hospitals and other health care facilities. You may use a Living Will to specify your wishes about life-prolonging procedures and other end of-life care so that your specific instructions can be read by your caregivers when you are unable to communicate your wishes.
A health care proxy is a document that allows you to appoint another person(s) as your health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are no longer able to do so. You may give your health care agent authority to make decisions for you in all medical situations if you cannot speak for yourself. Thus, even in medical situations not anticipated by you, your agent can make decisions and ensure you are treated according to your wishes, values and beliefs.
A power of attorney primarily authorizes the person you designate to make financial decisions for you. It cannot be used to make health care decisions. You must complete a health care proxy in order to enable someone someone else to make health care decisions for you when you are not able to do so.
The health care proxy becomes effective only when you become unable to make decisions, as determined by a physician. Until then, you continue to be in charge of making your own health care decisions. It can be revoked orally, and you always have the right while competent to sign a new health care proxy.