Be Cautious Of Generic Health Care Proxy Forms

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In some situations, it makes more sense to go with generic. Afterall, why pay 150% more for a dish soap that’s exactly the same as the off-brand? When two products are virtually indistinguishable in everything but price, generic is the easy choice.

However, there are certain things that can’t be replicated at the same quality. Specifically, any product, item, or service that demands a customized touch in order to be effective is worth a few extra dollars. This is certainly the case with legal services and documents, including health care proxy forms. 

If you need to establish a health care proxy, it’s easy enough to simply use a generic form. In doing so, however, you risk the inaccuracies, omissions, and lack of specificity that can render your wishes unenforceable. When it comes to important legal documents, including estate planning forms, it pays to buy the real deal. 

This article will explain everything you need to know about health care proxy forms, including the dangers of using a generic form, the key elements of this legal document, and how hiring an experienced estate planning attorney can help ensure your wishes are carried out.

What Is a Health Care Proxy?

Simply put, a health care proxy is a person authorized to make medical decisions on a patient’s behalf, when that patient (also called the principal) becomes incapacitated. A proxy plays a critical role in making sure the principal’s medical preferences and treatment decisions are respected. In Florida, health care proxies must adhere to the guidelines detailed in Chapter 765, Florida Statutes.

Key aspects of the health care proxy role include the following: 

  • Eligibility. Florida law outlines a priority order for who can serve as a health care proxy. If an official surrogate hasn’t been designated, the following individuals are eligible to serve as a health care proxy, in this order: court appointed guardian, spouse, adult child, parent, adult sibling, adult relative, a close friend, and a licensed social worker. 
  • Scope of authority. A proxy can make various health care decisions on a person’s behalf, including consenting to a medical treatment, refusing a treatment, making decisions about surgery, and authorizing the release of medical records. 
  • Limitations. Proxies are required to act in the best interest of the principal, taking into account their wishes, beliefs, and values. They aren’t allowed to make certain decisions, such as withdrawing life-prolonging procedures, unless they are following specific statutory guidelines or a court order. 
  • Duration. The proxy assumes authority as soon as the principal is declared incapacitated; their authority is terminated when the principal regains capacity or when a court revokes it. Additionally, health care proxies can be replaced by newly designated health care surrogates or court-appointed guardians. 
  • Court involvement. In situations where disputes arise over the appointment or actions of a proxy, family members and other interested persons can pursue court intervention and potentially appoint a new surrogate. 
  • Advance directives, living wills. A health care proxy is also responsible for adhering to and helping interpret and enforce other advance directives, including living wills that provide instructions for end-of-life care. 

Ultimately, a health care proxy helps ensure that the incapacitated person’s health care decisions and treatment preferences are respected and followed. However, their ability to do so isn’t ironclad — especially in the absence of a customized health care proxy form designed by a legal expert. 

What Is a Health Care Proxy Form?

A health care proxy form is the legal document through which the principal appoints a proxy to make medical decisions in the event of incapacitation. A high-quality health care proxy form should not only communicate this appointment but also the specific medical treatments they do and do not wish to receive, as well as other contingencies. 

Health care proxy forms typically involve the following key elements: 

  • Designation of a proxy, clearly identifying the the chosen health care agent
  • Decision-making authority, the extent to which the proxy can consent to or refuse a specific kind of treatment, access medical records, choose health care facilities, and make long-term care decisions
  • Scope, such as the type of care a proxy can authorize and limitations to their authority
  • Criteria for incapacity, such a clause stating that the proxy’s authority only begins after the principal is deemed incapacitated by medical professionals
  • Specific preferences, including instructions for do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders, organ donation, any religious considerations, etc. 
  • Relationship to other directives, consistency with other advance health care directive forms, including living wills and health care surrogate decisions

In addition to containing this information, it’s critical that health care proxy forms meet specific legal requirements outlined by state law. According to Section 765.202 of Florida Statutes, a health care proxy form must be signed by the principal in front of two adult witnesses (one of whom must not be the principal’s spouse or blood relation).

What Is the Problem with Signing a Generic Health Care Proxy?

In order to be effective and legally enforceable, a health care proxy form must contain various key elements and be executed in compliance with Florida state laws. The main problem with using a generic health care proxy form is that one-size-fits-all templates rarely take into consideration the many complexities inherent to the task.

Here are few of the reasons you should be cautious of generic health care proxy forms: 

  • Lack of specificity about the principal’s wishes and values about medical care
  • Non-compliance with Florida laws, potentially rendering them unenforceable
  • Inadequate information, such as the scope of the proxy’s authority or limitations
  • Conflicts with other forms, such as advance directives, leading to confusion among family members and health care providers
  • Ambiguity and omissions, including broad or confusing language that causes disagreements among family members, as well as failure to address certain unique preferences, such as choosing a secondary proxy
  • Legal challenges that arise from inaccuracies, ambiguities, and non-compliance

This is not a complete list of potential problems but rather a few of the many reasons that Floridians should be cautious of generic health care proxy forms. The best way to avoid these issues is by hiring an experienced estate planning attorney to draft customized, high-quality legal documents. 

William C. Roof Law Group: Dedicated Estate Planning Attorneys in Central Florida

As dedicated estate planning lawyers serving Central Florida, we feel as though it’s our responsibility to warn Floridians about the dangers of using generic legal forms. Generic health care proxy forms may save you a buck or two upfront, but your savings aren’t worth the potential legal challenges, family turmoil, and overall confusion that may result. 

The William C. Roof Law Group has years of experience creating customized, top-quality estate planning documents for our clients in Central Florida. When you’re ready to find legal solutions that are unique as you are, our law firm is here to help. Schedule a consultation online to speak with a trusted estate planning attorney today.

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