It’s incredibly important to have documentation for everything that could happen to you or your estate, even if some of the documents deal with potentialities you’d rather not think about. Among those is a set of directives for health care should you or someone in your family not have the capability to express their own wishes.
This formal document is known as a living will, which differs from a last will and testament in that the latter deals with the distribution of remaining assets after someone’s death. A living will provides a lot of necessary direction should someone slip into a coma, become unresponsive in long-term care, or are incapacitated after a health issue such as a stroke. There can be added thoroughness to living wills as well, such as directives in cases of diseases that cause mental degradation like Alzheimer’s disease. The direction contained within a living will largely has to do with life-prolonging care. One of the hardest things a family member may have to do is determine when it’s better to let someone pass on than to continue living in an unresponsive state. A living will removes that burden from them by clearly expressing a person’s wishes for what should happen upon entering a dire medical state where they are rendered unable to communicate.
The common specifics covered therein include the procedures that can and cannot be administered upon entering an unresponsive state such as blood transfusions and dialysis, the length of time in an unresponsive state required to pass before ceasing intravenous feeding and hydration, and what pain-relieving care should be administered if someone is close to dying.
One notable thing to be aware of is that the commonwealth of Massachusetts does not recognize a living will as a binding legal document. This begs the question of whether it is worth drafting one should you reside in Massachusetts. The lack of formal, legal recognition does not render a living will useless as it still provides information that can—and likely will—be used by the Health Care Agent under your Health Care Proxy.
A health care proxy used in conjunction with the living will can be very effective. While a living will’s directives aren’t legally binding, a person can assign someone over 18 years of age—often a member of their family—to be proxy to or agent for them, legally assigning them the responsibility of making the final decision on life-prolonging care and actions to take should the assigner of the proxy no longer be able to express their own wishes. In Massachusetts, the Health Care Proxy Law requires care providers and health care facilities to follow the wishes of the proxy. By having a health care proxy assigned to a trusted person, someone can ensure that their wishes expressed in a living will are followed.
This underscores the importance of having a living will, because it provides a proxy with the necessary instructions for determining what care can be administered should someone become unresponsive and close to death.
As with so many other aspects of estate planning, a living will and the assignment of a health care proxy serve a particular function which is more useful as part of a larger estate plan. These elements only provide direction on actions to be taken when someone is near death.
At Family Estate Planning Law Group, our team works with you and your family to draft a sound strategy for end-of-life care as part of a larger estate plan so that you and your family members’ wishes and assets both are properly protected. With our ongoing client care program, if your wishes change over time or other life factors cause you to need to make up dates, these changes can be easily made at no additional cost. Together, with you, we plan for life and take care of your family.
Join us today by scheduling your complimentary consultation.