Creating a Living Will

Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy -- also known as a health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care or a medical power of attorney -- is a person you authorize to make medical decisions for you should you be incapacitated or unable to understand your situation.

Some people only give a health care proxy permission to carry out what’s in the living will, but it may be wiser to give more latitude to someone that you trust completely. The rights of a health care proxy vary between states, so it’s best to ask a lawyer about the law in your state. Generally, a proxy can make decisions about hiring or firing doctors, authorizing procedures, which health care provider to use, disclosure of medical records and whether to limit visitation rights. Health care proxies can even make decisions in the event of a death, such as whether to conduct an autopsy or to donate organs.

Choosing a proxy can be a delicate and difficult process. The proxy should be someone who knows you well, a friend or loved one whom you can trust to follow through on your requests. But you should also remember that this person may have to fight with doctors, friends or family to see your wishes done. For that reason, it’s important to name someone whom you trust with this ability and who is also willing to act as your proxy. Your proxy should live nearby (preferably in your town or city) in case he or she has to be with you at the hospital over a period of weeks, months or even longer.

For more information on living wills and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • ”History.”
  • “Living Wills and Healthcare Power of Attorney.” FindLaw.
  • “Right to Die: Red Flags.” Public Agenda.
  • ”Understanding the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.” DHR Division of Aging Services.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care § Title 31, Chapter 36 of O.C.G.A. § 31-36-10, 2006.
  • Clark, Elizabeth G. and Freer, Jack P. “The Living Will: A Guide to Health Care Decision Making.”
  • “Terri Schiavo has died.” 3/31/2005.
  • Brown, David and Murray, Shailagh. “Schiavo Autopsy Released.” 6/16/2005. The Washington Post.