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How can I include health care matters in my estate plan?

When it comes to the notion of having a comprehensive estate plan in place, it's important to understand that this means more than just accounting for all of your property and minimizing your tax liability. Indeed, it also includes making plans for your health care should a major medical event leave you incapacitated.  

While this may seem like it would be a complex legal undertaking, the reality is that it's actually relatively easy thanks to Massachusetts's Health Care Proxy Law, which authorizes all competent adults 18 and over to appoint what is known as a health care agent.

Who can be appointed to serve as a health care agent?

State law permits you, the principal, to select any trusted competent adult to serve as a health care agent.

The only real restrictions are that the health care agent cannot be an employee, operator or administrator of a health care facility (hospital, nursing home, etc.) where you are a patient/resident. However, it should be noted that this restriction is inapplicable if the person who is an employee, operator or administrator is related to you by marriage, blood or adoption.

What exactly is a health care agent permitted to do?

The person you appoint to serve as your health care agent can make any health care decision on your behalf. Indeed, when health care agents are vested with full authority, they can consent to or refuse any medical treatment, including that which would help you stay alive.

Does my health care agent have to honor my wishes?

The health care agent will always need to make decisions that are in line with your express wishes for medical care, or what they believe you would want based on these wishes, taking care to account for things like your spiritual beliefs. However, in the event your wishes for a certain situation are unclear, the health care agent will have to make a decision that they believe is in your best interests.

For these reasons, experts indicate that it's advisable to have an in-depth discussion with the person you appoint as your agent, as well as family, friends, spiritual advisors and even doctors so that your wishes for medical care are well established.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post.

If you have questions about executing a health care proxy or other estate planning matters, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional.    

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