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Helping People Age with Dignity

Are living wills legally binding in Massachusetts?

Decisions regarding medical care can have some very big implications on a senior's health and quality of life. Thus, many elderly individuals care very much about remaining the one in control of these decisions. However, there are things that can cause a senior to no longer have the authority to make their own medical decisions, such as incapacity. One thing elderly individuals may desire to do is put documents in place in advance to help control what happens with their medical decisions if they lose decision-making authority.

One sort of advanced planning document you may have heard of is a living will. This is a document in which a person lays out directions as to what they would want done in relation to certain medical decisions if they no longer had the ability to make these decisions themselves. An important thing to note about living wills here in Massachusetts is that living wills are not legally binding in the state. 

This does not mean that a having living will has absolutely no value in Massachusetts. It could still serve as a helpful, though nonbinding, indicator of a person's wishes regarding medical decisions. 

It also does not mean there are no concrete ways for an individual to keep some control over what happens with medical decisions in the event they lose their decision-making capacity. This is because there is another type of health-care-related advanced planning document that is legally enforceable in the state. This type of document is called a health care proxy. 

In such a document, a person can name who they want to have medical decision-making authority for them in the event they can no longer hold this authority themselves. Individuals may find this preferable to leaving the matter of who would get such authority up to things like who a judge would select in a future guardianship proceeding. 

Also, in a health care proxy document, a person can put limitations on the sorts of decisions their appointed health care agent can make.

Elder law attorneys can help seniors, and adults of any age for that matter, here in Massachusetts with forming a health care proxy document and with tailoring such a document to their particular desires regarding medical decisions. 

Source: FindLaw, "Massachusetts Living Wills Laws," Accessed Dec. 18, 2015

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