In our last post, our blog spent some time discussing how a person’s estate plan can’t be considered truly complete until they have made the necessary arrangements for their medical care, something that can actually be accomplished relatively easily thanks in large part to Massachusetts’s Health Care Proxy Law.

To recap, this law essentially authorizes all competent adults 18 and over to appoint a health care agent to make medical decisions on their behalf. In today’s post, we’ll continue this important discussion.

When exactly does a health care agent secure their decision-making authority?   

A health care agent is authorized to start making medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so on your own. Qualifying scenarios include temporary unconsciousness, a coma, or the onset of some medical condition or injury that otherwise renders you unable to make or communicate any sort of decision.

Does a health care agent have to confer with a physician before assuming their decision-making authority?

The law states that the health care agent cannot make any decisions until such time as the treating physician declares in writing that you no longer have the ability to do this on your own.

Is my health care agent authorized to access my health records?

A health care agent is legally permitted to access your otherwise confidential medical record in order to make informed decisions on your behalf.

Where should the health care proxy be kept?

Experts recommend that you keep the original with the rest of your estate planning documents, the location of which should already be well known. Indeed, they recommend providing copies to your attorney (if they aren’t already in possession of your estate planning documents), your treating physician and, of course, your designated health care agent (and any alternate agents).

Can the health care proxy be revoked?  

There are four distinct scenarios in which a health care proxy is revoked:

  • You execute a subsequent health care proxy.
  • You provide notice to your named agent, physician, etc. either in writing or orally that you wish to revoke the existing health care proxy.
  • You legally separate or divorce a spouse named as your health care agent
  • You perform any sort of action that demonstrates a desire to revoke the health care proxy, such as tearing it up or informing people of this wish

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have questions about executing a health care proxy or other vital estate planning matters.