A living will is a written statement that details a person’s wishes regarding their medical treatment. Typically, a living will specifies whether a person would like to refuse or accept medical treatment should he or she become terminally ill, seriously injured, or unconscious. Massachusetts is one of only three states that does not recognize living wills as legally enforceable estate planning documents. Nonetheless, creating a living will is a beneficial part of a thorough estate plan. Creating a living will helps families immensely when they need to decide whether or not to take a loved one off of life support.
At Surprenant & Beneski, PC, we understand that thinking through the difficult medical situations one might find themselves in can be emotionally challenging. Our lawyers skillfully and empathetically help our clients make their wishes known through a living will. One the living will is on record, the document will help family members and medical professionals facilitate conversations about difficult medical decisions. When a loved one makes his or her preferences known in a living will, family members feel more secure that they are making the right decisions on behalf of their loved ones.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a written document that states whether or not a person would like to be on life support should he or she become incapacitated. Living wills are sometimes called personal wish statements. The wishes outlined in a living will only become relevant when a person can no longer communicate his or her desires. The provisions in a living will usually address medical decisions that must take place after one of the following situations takes place:
- A terminal illness
- A serious injury
- Long-term unconsciousness
- Persistent vegetative state
The document will often address whether or not the creator wishes to receive one or more of the following medical interventions:
- Feeding tube
- Artificial hydration
- Pain medication
The creator of the living will enjoys complete control over the wishes he or she sets forth. For example, the document might state that the individual would like pain medication but would not want to receive tube feeding and artificial hydration.
What Happens When a Person Does Not Have a Living Will?
Living wills are not legally recognized documents in Massachusetts. Doctors are not required to follow the wishes outlined in a patient’s living will. When an individual who is seriously injured or ill becomes unable to make their own medical decisions, a Massachusetts court will appoint a health care proxy to make decisions on his or her behalf. Judges often consider the provisions in a living will when determining a proxy, even though they are not legally binding documents themselves.
While not legally binding, this important estate planning document can help family members understand their loved one’s wishes. Should a friend or a family member become their loved one’s health care agent, a living will help the agent make confident decisions. Deciding to sustain or remove life support can be extremely emotionally challenging for a health care agent. When an agent knows that their loved one clearly stated his or her wishes in a living will, the agent often feels more secure in making the medical decision.
Creating a Health Care Proxy in Massachusetts
Although living wills are not legally binding or enforceable, Massachusetts law does recognize health care proxy documents as legally binding. A health care proxy is a legal document that allows a person to choose someone else to make medical decisions on their behalf should they ever become unable to make their own medical decisions. Individuals can appoint a person who is at least 18 years of age to act as their health care agent or proxy should they become incapacitated.
The creator of the health care proxy can give their health care agent the ability to make all medically-related decisions. Or, the creator of the health care proxy can limit the agent’s authority to a list of specific medical treatments he or she would like to reject or accept. The provisions within a health care proxy only take effect after a doctor, or medical professional declares in writing that an individual is unable to make his or her own medical decisions. Health care agents also have the authority to talk to their friend or loved one’s doctors about their health status and prognosis.
Contact Our Southeastern Massachusetts Living Will Attorney
Regardless of the value of a person’s assets or age, creating a living will is an essential part of Massachusetts estate planning. A debilitating accident or severe illness can happen at any time to any of us. Every Massachusetts resident should ensure that medical professionals will follow his or her medical wishes. Southeastern Massachusetts is home to a large retired community. Our law firm has helped many clients who are at or approaching retirement age create an effective living will documents. Our founding attorneys are two of only 24 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the state of Massachusetts. Our firm focuses on estate planning because we understand the vital role estate planning documents play in each client’s journey.
The estate planning lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski, PC, understand the importance of living wills. Our founding attorney decided to focus our law firm on estate planning after walking through his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We know how challenging end of life decision making can become for family and friends. Our skilled lawyers listen carefully to the wishes of our clients and draft living will documents that accurately reflect their preferences entirely and clearly. With law offices in New Bedford, Easton, and Hyannis, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you create a living will.