Estate plans are one of the most comprehensive ways to plan for the unexpected, but the whirling vortex of legal terms can leave you confused and concerned. With a host of similar-sounding terms,  in your paperwork, you may face some uncertainty about potential gaps in your estate plan. The confusion surrounding the terms “health care directive” and “health care proxy” serves as one notable example of this.

What is a health care proxy?

A health care proxy is a legally binding document that grants someone you trust the ability to make health care decisions on your behalf. Having a document like this in place provides reassurance for individuals with debilitating conditions that their health care is in trusted hands.

Other states often refer to this document as “medical power of attorney.”

Your health care proxy document can grant a broad spectrum of legal responsibility, up to and including the decision to end life-sustaining medical care.

The state of New York does not require notarization, but you will need two witnesses present when you sign a health care proxy form.

What is a health care directive?

While a health care proxy gives an individual the ability to make decisions on your behalf, a health care directive, or living will, provides guidance on your wishes regarding those decisions if you become terminally ill.

For instance, your health care directive may include a do-not-resuscitate order or state that you wish to maintain life-sustaining treatment for a certain amount of time.

The directive and the proxy work together, like a driver and a GPS. If your health care directive does not include information on specific care, such as antibiotics or feeding tubes, your health care proxy can make those decisions for you.  In turn, the proxy can make certain important decisions with more confidence knowing that your wishes were outlined in your directive.

Make informed decisions about your health care ahead of time

No matter what stage of life you are in, creating an advance directive can help you have some peace of mind about the future. Discuss your wishes for end-of-life care with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn more about setting up a health care proxy and health care directive.