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Health Care Proxy or Living Will

Hello - can a living will/advanced directive be part of a Health Care Proxy or should it be a stand alone document?  (Posted by Donald in the Forums.)


Editor's Response:


If you want to spell out your wishes--in detail--you should probably have a separate living will. It is not a document that MA law recognizes, but it will give your Agent some guidance. On the other hand, many argue that a Living Will is not required and that some limited "Living Will language" should be incorporated into the Health Care Proxy. Using this approach, a Principal can execute just one, legally recognized document that spells out her philosophy and names the person she trusts to implement it.


Here is some typical language:


"I believe that dying is a natural part of life, not something to be avoided at any cost. If I develop an injury, disease, or illness regarded by my physician as incurable and terminal, or if said injury or illness leaves me unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state with no reasonable likelihood that I will recover or regain consciousness, and if my physician determines that the application of life sustaining procedures (including artificial hydration and nutrition) would serve only to prolong artificially the dying process, I request that such procedures be withheld or withdrawn and that I be permitted to die. I want treatment limited to those measures that will provide me with maximum comfort and freedom from pain."


This simple language is probably enough when considered in the context of the Proxy Law. Remember, your Agent has no power until and unless your physician determines that you are no longer able make your own decisions. And once that determination has been made, the Agent—a person you trust and to whom you have communicated your philosophy and wishes—will be entitled by law to receive any and all medical information required by her to make sound decisions regarding your medical care. If, for example, your Agent wants a second or third opinion regarding the question of whether you will ever regain consciousness, she can request those opinions. In the end, no matter what types of documents you use, it’s a leap of faith, and you need to be able to trust your Agent.


For more information or to post a question, visit our Massachusetts Estate Planning Discussion Forum.


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