Medical Power of Attorney and Living Wills

A Medical Power of Attorney gives an individual the ability to make medical decisions for another person when they become unable to do so. This is an extremely important document to have as a parent ages, since their ability to make decisions about complex medical matters may change quickly.

Note that both a Living Will and a Medical Power of Attorney must be in the format of the state in which the parent lives to be accepted. Most attorneys advise that both documents are not necessarily needed and that there is a possibility they could conflict with each other. A Living Will can be interpreted by any member of the family and remember that most siblings and family members can rarely agree to a single decision, let alone multiple ones.

In Massachusetts the state has no provisions for a Living Will, but does have a Health Care Proxy, which is a simple document, legally valid in Massachusetts, which allows you to name someone (an “agent”) to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make or communicate those decisions. This Health Care Proxy document, provided free of charge, gives a clear explanation of the responsibilities of a health care agent, and simple directions on how fill out and sign the form. There are also instructions on how to revoke or cancel the document at a later date, if you choose to do so.

In the case of my Dad, he was mentally competent prior to being sent to the hospital one Sunday morning. But he would not sign any documents without at least one of his children present, and he was in Florida and we were all in Massachusetts. Since not one of us had the medical ‘surogate power’ (Florida standards), it was impossible for us to do anything until we arrived in Florida.

I could cite multiple horror stories from people who delayed too long in obtaining this document. The best advice is to find out how your parent’s state of residence treats this document and to talk about it with your parent before it is actually needed and then speak with a trusted attorney about exactly what is needed in your parent’s state of residence.

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