What is a Health Care Proxy in Florida?

A health care proxy, also known as a health care surrogate or medical power of attorney, is a legal document that allows an individual to designate another person to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated or unable to communicate their wishes.

In Florida, the laws governing health care proxies are designed to ensure that an individual’s medical preferences are respected even when they cannot speak for themselves.

Understanding the Health Care Proxy

Definition and Purpose

A health care proxy is a legal tool that provides a way for individuals to plan for the possibility of future incapacity. By appointing a trusted person as their health care proxy, individuals can ensure that their medical treatment preferences are honored. The designated proxy, or surrogate, is empowered to make decisions regarding medical care, including consent to or refusal of treatment, based on the incapacitated person’s wishes and best interests.

Key Features of a Health Care Proxy:

  • Appointment of a Surrogate: The individual, known as the principal, appoints a surrogate to make health care decisions on their behalf.
  • Activation: The proxy becomes active only when the principal is unable to make or communicate medical decisions.
  • Scope of Authority: The surrogate’s authority can be broad or limited, depending on the specific terms outlined in the proxy document.

How to Create a Health Care Proxy in Florida

Legal Requirements

Creating a health care proxy in Florida involves several legal requirements to ensure its validity:

  • Competent Principal: The individual creating the proxy must be mentally competent at the time of creation.
  • Written Document: The health care proxy must be documented in writing.
  • Signed and Witnessed: The proxy document must be signed by the principal in the presence of two adult witnesses, neither of whom can be the designated surrogate. At least one witness cannot be a relative by blood or marriage.

Content of the Health Care Proxy

A comprehensive health care proxy should include:

  • Identification of the Principal: Full name and address of the individual creating the proxy.
  • Designation of the Surrogate: Full name and contact information of the person appointed as the health care surrogate.
  • Alternate Surrogates: Names and contact information of alternate surrogates, in case the primary surrogate is unavailable or unwilling to serve.
  • Scope of Authority: Specific instructions regarding the types of medical decisions the surrogate is authorized to make.
  • Effective Date: Conditions under which the proxy becomes effective, typically when the principal is deemed incapacitated by a physician.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Health Care Surrogate

Decision-Making Authority

The health care surrogate is entrusted with significant responsibilities, including:

  • Medical Treatment Decisions: Making decisions about medical treatments, procedures, and interventions based on the principal’s wishes and best interests.
  • Access to Medical Records: Reviewing and obtaining the principal’s medical records to make informed decisions.
  • Consultation with Health Care Providers: Communicating with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to understand treatment options and prognosis.
  • End-of-Life Decisions: Making decisions about life-sustaining treatments, palliative care, and hospice services, if applicable.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

The surrogate must act in accordance with:

  • Principal’s Wishes: Following any specific instructions provided by the principal, whether documented in the health care proxy or communicated previously.
  • Best Interests: Acting in the best interests of the principal, especially when specific instructions are not available.
  • Legal and Ethical Standards: Adhering to all relevant laws and ethical guidelines governing medical decision-making.

Importance of a Health Care Proxy

Ensuring Personal Autonomy

A health care proxy is a vital tool for preserving personal autonomy. By appointing a trusted surrogate, individuals can ensure their medical preferences are honored, even when they cannot advocate for themselves. This helps avoid situations where medical decisions might be made by individuals who are unfamiliar with the principal’s values and wishes.

Reducing Family Conflict

Having a health care proxy in place can reduce potential conflicts among family members. When a clear decision-maker is designated, it alleviates the burden on family members and minimizes disagreements about the appropriate course of action. This clarity can provide emotional relief during challenging times.

Facilitating Medical Care

A health care proxy facilitates timely and appropriate medical care. Health care providers can rely on the surrogate to make prompt decisions, ensuring that the principal receives necessary treatments without unnecessary delays.

Gideon Alper

About the Author

I’m an attorney who specializes in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from Emory University Law School and have been practicing law for almost 15 years.

I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors. Before private practice, I represented the federal government while working for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel.