At The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen in Andover, we believe in providing comprehensive estate planning services that cover a wide range of needs. Estate administration encompasses various aspects, including asset preservation, tax strategies, heir designations, and distributions. It also involves areas such as charitable giving, guardian and conservatorship appointments, as well as will and trust execution, among other crucial matters.
One fundamental question we pose on our introductory website page is: “Whom do you trust to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated?”
This question brings to light a significant component of many estate plans: end-of-life considerations and the vital aspects surrounding major health-related issues. This is covered by a Health Care Directive, which outlines your wishes regarding these matters.
Possible Issues with only having a Health Care Directive
We always emphasize for our Massachusetts clients the importance of taking timely action on this critical element of planning. Doing so not only instills confidence and peace of mind in planners but also ensures their loved ones are safeguarded.
However, it’s important to understand that Massachusetts does not formally recognize health care directives, also commonly known as living wills. This means that instructions outlined in these documents might not be followed in scenarios involving end-of-life or incapacitation situations when the individual is unable to communicate their wishes to medical personnel.
The Massachusetts Health Care Proxy
Instead, Massachusetts acknowledges the significance of a health care proxy. According to the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS), a proxy “designates another person to make medical decisions should the planner be unable to do so.”
What is a Health Care Proxy?
A health care proxy is a legal document that empowers you to designate an individual, known as an agent, to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so. Unlike living wills or health care directives, a health care proxy is recognized and legally enforceable in Massachusetts. This means that your designated agent’s decisions will hold weight in medical situations where you cannot communicate your preferences directly.
The health care proxy offers a solution for individuals who wish to ensure their healthcare wishes are honored, even if they are incapacitated. It provides the agent with the authority to advocate for your medical preferences, making it a critical element of your comprehensive estate plan.
An experienced estate administration attorney can provide comprehensive insights into the role, duties, and prerogatives of a proxy (agent), as well as the requirements for creating a legally enforceable proxy form.
Who Should You Choose as Your Agent in a Health Care Proxy?
Selecting the right agent for your health care proxy is a decision that requires careful consideration. Your chosen agent should be someone you trust implicitly, as they will be responsible for making medical choices aligned with your values and preferences. While a family member is often the most common choice, it’s important to prioritize their ability to make objective decisions, especially in emotionally charged situations.
Consider the following when choosing an agent:
- Trustworthiness: Your agent should act in your best interests and be capable of adhering to your expressed wishes.
- Communication Skills: The agent should be capable of effectively communicating with medical professionals and your loved ones, ensuring your preferences are accurately conveyed.
- Availability: Opt for someone who can be readily available to make decisions promptly in case of a medical emergency.
- Willingness: Ensure your chosen agent is willing to take on this responsibility and understands the gravity of the decisions they may need to make.
What Can an Agent Do According to a Health Care Proxy?
The authority granted to your agent in a health care proxy is extensive, encompassing various healthcare decisions. Your agent is entrusted with the power to:
- Make treatment decisions: This includes choices related to medical procedures, surgeries, medications, and other medical interventions.
- Choose healthcare providers: Your agent can select doctors, specialists, and medical facilities based on your medical needs.
- Access medical records: They can access your medical records and discuss your condition with healthcare providers.
- Determine end-of-life care: Your agent can make decisions regarding life-sustaining treatments, palliative care, and other choices aligned with your wishes.
- Make organ donation decisions: If you wish to be an organ donor, your agent can ensure your preferences are respected.
What Your Agent Should Know:
In selecting your agent, discuss your medical preferences and values openly. Ensure they understand your stance on medical interventions, end-of-life care, and other relevant matters. By doing so, you empower your agent to make decisions that truly reflect your wishes.
Your chosen agent should be well-informed about:
- Your personal stance on health, illness, mortality, and the dying process.
- Your preferences regarding medical treatments, such as your perspectives on palliative (comfort) care, life-sustaining interventions (such as artificial hydration and nutrition), and potential treatments required if you’re unable to communicate.
- Your religious convictions that could impact medical decisions.
- Your sentiments concerning healthcare providers, caregivers, and medical facilities.
A health care proxy is a powerful tool that provides peace of mind, knowing that your healthcare choices will be honored even when you are unable to express them. At the Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen, we understand the importance of this document in your estate plan. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in creating a comprehensive health care proxy and plan that aligns with your preferences and values.