Two women looking over an advanced directive.

The Difference Between an Advanced Directive, a DNR, and a Health Care Proxy

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect residents of Southeastern Massachusetts, more people than ever are taking time to get their affairs in order. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our families is to make sure we have important legal documents prepared in case we contract the coronavirus or any other serious medical condition. Understanding the different types of medical care planning documents can be challenging, however. In this post, we will help explain the differences between an advance directive, a DNR, and a health care proxy.

Advance Directive

An advance directive, also called a living will, provides instruction on what type of care you’d like to receive. Advance directives are not legally binding documents in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, creating an advance directive can be helpful. It is important to choose a health care agent that you trust. Creating an advance directive can help your agent get a better understanding of your wishes and help them feel more confident in making decisions on your behalf.

Do Not Resuscitate Order 

A do not resuscitate order, or DNR, states what you’d like doctors to do should you stop breathing. If you sign a legally valid DNR, doctors will not attempt to revive you if you stop breathing. Signing a DNR can be important when a person is extremely frail, elderly, or they’ve been suffering from a terminal illness for a long time. In some cases, when doctors use aggressive resuscitation techniques, the patient can become injured or end up on a ventilator without the ability to come off the ventilator. 

Health Care Proxy

At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we believe that everyone should have a valid health care proxy, regardless of age or health condition. Massachusetts is a unique state in that a person’s spouse, children, and parents do not have a legal right to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. Instead, Massachusetts law requires that only a guardian appointed by a court or a health care agent appointed in a health care proxy can make decisions for the incapacitated person. 

Sometimes, our clients worry about appointing someone else to make decisions for them. Keep in mind that a health care agent will only be able to make decisions for you when you become incapacitated and can’t make decisions for yourself. Up until that point, you will be able to continue to make your own medical decisions. By completing a health care proxy, you will appoint a health care agent who you trust to make decisions for you should you become medically incapacitated. 

Having a Health Care Proxy Is Critical, Especially Now

For example, if a patient with coronavirus needs to be placed on a ventilator and placed into a medically-induced coma, her health care proxy could step in and make decisions on her behalf. If the patient has not appointed a health care proxy, her family would need to ask the court to appoint someone as the guardian. Needing to go through the court uses valuable time and causes additional stress in already challenging circumstances. 

Contact Our Estate Planning Lawyers Today

If you have been thinking about how to protect yourself and your family during these unprecedented times, Surprenant & Beneski, PC can help. Our estate planning clients rest easier knowing that we have created a comprehensive estate plan for them that includes a health care proxy. The best time to start planning for a potential medical emergency is now. Contact our Southeastern Massachusetts estate planning lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation.