If you become unable to direct your own medical care because of illness, an accident, or advanced age, the right legal documents are your lifeline. When you don't write down your wishes about the kinds of medical treatment you want and name someone you trust to oversee your care, these important matters can be placed in the hands of estranged family members, doctors, or sometimes even judges, who may know very little about what you would prefer.
There are two basic kinds of health care documents that everyone should make. First, you'll need a document naming a trusted person to direct your health care if you are unable to do so yourself. This document is commonly called a power of attorney. In Massachusetts, the official name for this form is a health care proxy.
Second, you should make a document setting out the types of medical treatment you would or would not like to receive in certain situations. This document is usually known as a living will. Massachusetts is one of just three states without a statute authorizing living wills, but that doesn't mean you should do without one. Federal law gives you the right to direct your medical care, and a living will provides important guidance to help others understand your treatment wishes. In Massachusetts, health care instructions are sometimes recorded on a living will form known as a "personal wishes statement."
In Massachusetts, the person you name to make decisions for you is called your agent. Most people name a spouse, partner, relative, or close friend as their agent. Under Massachusetts law, your agent may not be an operator, administrator or employee of a facility where you are a patient or resident or have applied for admission, unless the operator, administrator or employee is related to you by blood, marriage or adoption.
When choosing your agent, the most crucial criteria are trustworthiness and dependability. You might also want to choose someone you think will be good at asserting your health care wishes if others argue against them -- that is, someone who is persistent or calm under pressure.
While you need not name someone who lives in Massachusetts, the person you name should at least be willing and able to travel to your bedside if necessary.
Your agent will begin to make health care decisions for you when you lack the capacity to do so. For more information, see Nolo's article Living Wills and Powers of Attorney for Health Care: How They Work.
You usually don't need a lawyer to prepare documents directing your health care. In fact, state governments have designed these forms for people to complete on their own by filling in the blanks. You can find the health care forms you need for Massachusetts in Nolo's Quicken WillMaker Plus software. The software includes detailed instructions for completing your documents and meets all Massachusetts legal requirements.