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Using a Health Care Proxy in Massachusetts

A living will is a document that sets forth a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, and the terms or the documents are usually enacted when there is medical emergency or when the person drafting the document is incapacitated. In Massachusetts, however, living wills are not binding. That is, courts and health care providers may look to them for assistance in making decisions, but medical professionals in Massachusetts are not bound by the terms of a living will.

Instead of relying on a living will, Massachusetts residents may appoint a health care agent to make medical decisions on their behalf. The appointment is done via a relatively simple document known as a health care proxy. The proxy takes effect only in the event that the person becomes unable to make his or her own medical decisions, and at that point, the appointed health care agent takes control.

The health care agent will have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the patient within the powers defined by the terms of the proxy, which may be drafted to limit the agent’s decision-making ability to certain areas or to extend it to all situations. However, when the document is drafted, the health care agent chosen should be a person the patient can trust to act in his or her best interests or according to predetermined instructions. The only legal requirement is that the person appointed health care agent must be 18 years old or older.

The person granting the proxy may wish to include written instructions for his or her health care agent. It is not uncommon, for example, to include with a proxy a list of specific medical treatments that the party believes acceptable or unacceptable. An estate planning attorney may be able to help with the drafting of a health care proxy that may be effective under Massachusetts law. An attorney may be able to help interested parties understand the requirements and limits of Massachusetts’ health care proxy laws.

Source: Findlaw, “Massachusetts Estate Planning Laws“, September 12, 2014

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