A healthcare proxy is a document by which a person can appoint another person to make healthcare decisions for her in the event of incapacity. The person signing the document is the principal and the person being appointed is the agent or “proxy.” It is the healthcare equivalent of the power of attorney, except that unlike a power of attorney, it always requires the incapacity of the principal.
Depending on the state, the signature on a healthcare proxy may require witnesses, notarization or both. The document can appoint one or multiple proxies. In the latter case, the agents may be required to act in concert or given the authority to act independently of each other on behalf of the principal.
The healthcare proxy may be accompanied by or combined in the document with, a “living will” or “healthcare directive,” which gives specific instructions regarding the type of treatment desired.
Note that without a healthcare proxy or living will, hospital or government authorities may have substantial control over the types of treatments issued to an incapacitated sick person.