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What does a health care proxy mean for my capacity?

All end-of-life care documents are the same, right? Well, when you are talking about probate and estate litigation matters in Massachusetts, the rules can become a little blurred. The fact is that you need specific documents to meet specific requirements - you cannot simply pass off a power of attorney as a living will, for instance. That is why it is so important to maintain a great relationship with your legal professionals, who can help you learn more about the tools you need for your health and asset protection.

So, what is the difference between a health care proxy and a living will? The most important thing you need to know about living wills in Massachusetts is that the state generally does not recognize these documents. Living wills are designed to help terminally ill patients by identifying treatments they prefer and treatments they want to refuse. On the other hand, a health care proxy simply allows you to designate a person to make health care decisions for you - rather than relying on a document, the medical professionals would rely on the decisions of your designated representative.

When does a health care proxy go into effect? Your legal representative - who must be older than 18 years old - becomes the decision-maker for your health when your physician deems you unable to make your own health care decisions. Your doctor will enter the information about your capacity in your chart for future records.

What else should I know about health care proxies? Massachusetts is one of just a handful of states that permits health care proxies but prohibits living wills. Make sure you understand how these documents can address your mental capacity and decision-making ability by consulting a trusted attorney.

Source: Massachusetts Medical Society, "Important Differences Between Health Care Proxies and Living Wills," accessed March 24, 2017

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