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What is a Medical Power of Attorney in New York?

A New York medical power of attorney, also known as a “health care proxy,” is a legal document that allows a patient to grant authority to a trusted individual (known as an “agent”, “proxy”, or an “attorney-in-fact”) to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are incapacitated.

When you name a health care agent, you can rest assured  that health care providers will follow your agent’s instructions (informed, in many cases,  by directives that you have communicated in advance to the agent) regarding your treatment and care, when you are unable to communicate your wishes on your own.

Your agent can also decide how your wishes apply as your medical condition changes. Hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers are required by New York law to follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own. With a medical POA, you can give your agent as little or as much authority as you want. So, you can let your agent make all health care decisions or only specific ones. Plus, you can give your agent instructions that he or she must follow.

A medical POA can also be used to state your wishes or instructions as to organ and tissue donation.

Who Can I Name as My Agent?

New York Medical Power of Attorney
If a person doesn’t have a signed medical POA, a court will designate someone to make the decisions on the patient’s behalf. This person may be a stranger, a relative, or a medical staff member who’s unfamiliar with the patient’s wishes.

You can appoint anyone to be the agent of your medical power of attorney, provided he or she is at least 18 years of age.

Remember that the person you name as your agent will have a considerable amount of power over some of your most personal affairs and issues. As a result, be certain that the individual you choose is trustworthy, honest, will honor your wishes as to your health care, and has your best interests at heart. Also, note that your agent will begin making decisions for you when your doctor determines that you’re unable to make health care decisions for yourself.

If you name a physician as your agent, he or she will be forced to choose between acting as your agent or as your attending physician. This is because a doctor can’t do both at the same time.

In addition, if you’re a patient or resident of a hospital, nursing home, or mental health facility, New York has special restrictions about naming someone who works for that facility as your agent.

Prior to naming a person as your health care agent, it’s smart to talk to them about what the role might entail. Be sure that he or she is willing to act as your agent, knowing that they may have to make some tough decisions and deal with grieving family members. Let your agent-designate know your deeply -held desires, concerns and wishes with respect to your health care, especially as to matters pertaining to end-of-life treatment options. You can also tell this person that they can’t be sued for health care decisions made in good faith acting as your agent.

What If I Don’t Have a Medical Power of Attorney?

If a person doesn’t have a signed medical POA, a court will designate someone to make the decisions on the patient’s behalf. This person may be a stranger, a relative, or a medical staff member who’s unfamiliar with the patient’s wishes.

There may be conflict between family members if there’s no medical power of attorney, or health care proxy document created by the patient. The court may appoint a family member to make any important decisions in the absence of a power of attorney. However, if this happens, other members of the family may have different views and be upset with the designated agent’s decisions.

Plus, if there are no family members available at all, it could create the situation described above where someone such as a nurse, doctor, or hospital director is placed in charge by the court to make medical decisions for the patient. The medical staff may decide what they feel is in the best interest of the patient—but that may not be at all what the patient actually wanted.


A medical power of attorney is an important estate planning tool that every New Yorker should have. This document protects your health and well-being and allows you to give specific instructions in advance about your care and treatment when you are incapacitated or in your final days. Again, in the event that you’re incapacitated and don’t have a POA, your family will bear the brunt in added  stress, worry, and expense  in an already difficult, and harrowing time.

Contact Us

Remember that a medical power of attorney, or health care proxy, is a powerful document, and once you name an agent, that person may have the authority to act on your behalf with or without your consent. Draft a legal and proper medical POA with the help of an experienced estate planning, and elder law attorney.

Ask an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney at Ely J. Rosenzveig & Associates, PC, to help you draft your medical power of attorney, as well as other important estate planning documents, such as a living will, last will & testament, and a wide array of trust products tailored to your specific needs.

Ariel S. Rosenzveig
Ariel Rosenzveig

Ariel S. Rosenzveig received his Juris Doctor from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in May, 2011, and has been practicing law with the firm since August, 2011. During his summers while in law school, Ariel interned with the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission in New York and with the Securities & Futures Commission in Hong Kong, China.

While in law school, Ariel served on the staff of the Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal, volunteered with the Cardozo Advocates for Battered Women, and participated in the National Institute for Trial Advocacy’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program. Prior to attending law school, Ariel worked as an arbitrage trader for a small proprietary trading firm on Wall Street. Ariel graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University in 2006.

Ariel is licensed to practice law in the states of New York and New Jersey, and is a member of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), NYSBA’s Elder Law section, and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). In June, 2015, Ariel successfully completed a certificate program in mediation through the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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