The Use Of A New York Health Care Proxy Can Face Complex Issues

A New York Health Care Proxy can be a valuable part of an estate plan. It provides the means by which someone can appoint an agent to make health care decisions on their behalf in the event they are not able to make these decisions for themselves.

New York Public Health Law sections §2980 through 2994 provide the statutory guidelines for the New York Health Care Proxy. The law defines a “health care proxy” as “a document delegating the authority to make health care decisions, executed in accordance with the statutory requirements.” The statute further provides that “a competent adult may appoint a health care agent…”

The Health Care Proxy form must be “signed and dated by the adult in the presence of two adult witnesses” and “the witnesses must also sign the proxy”.

While the designation of a health care agent seems fairly straight forward, the actual appointment and utilization of the proxy can involve many complications. For example, the statute requires that the person creating the proxy be competent. Quite often, the issue of a person’s competency regarding the execution of a health care proxy is raised in an Article 81 Guardianship Proceeding where questions can arise concerning the validity of the appointment made by the alleged incapacitated person. Section 81.29 of the Mental Hygiene Law allows a Court to “modify, amend or revoke” a previously signed Health Care Proxy if the Court finds that it was made when the person was incapacitated or if there has been a breach of fiduciary duty by the agent. Public Health Law Section 2992 also provides a procedure for the commencement of a Court proceeding to determine issues such as the validity of the proxy or to have the agent removed or to override the agent’s health care decisions.

Complications may also appear when the health care agent attempts to exercise his or her authority on behalf of the appointing person. In Stein v. County of Nassau, 642 F. Supp.2d 135 (E.D. 7/23/09), a Federal District Court was called upon to review various aspects of the proxy statute. As reviewed by Daniel G. Fish in the New York Law Journal on August 20, 2010, Mr. Stein signed a Health Care Proxy and appointed his wife as his agent. When he became ill at home, his wife called for emergency assistance and she instructed that the ambulance to transport Mr. Stein to the hospital where he had been previously treated. Despite Mrs. Stein’s presentation of the signed proxy, the emergency personnel refused her request to go to the hospital she designated and claimed that the Health Care Proxy was not valid outside of a hospital-like setting. The Court found, as part of its decision, that the Health Care Proxy was valid everywhere and not just in a hospital-like setting.

New York Probate Attorney Jules M. Haas has been assisting clients for over 30 years in matters regarding estate planning, advance directives and Guardianship proceedings. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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