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    Health Care Proxies: Create the Document, Have the Conversation

    In Massachusetts, communicating and enforcing our health care wishes is a two-step process. First, we must have the document. Under our state laws, a health care proxy must be in writing and executed properly. In cases where you want a group of people to have input, or where there is no family to step into this role, a "caring committee" is a good option to consider.

    A Massachusetts health care proxy becomes effective when a doctor determines that you are no longer competent or can no longer communicate your wishes. At that point, your health care agent can make any decision that you could have made when you were competent. While many people have a written living will, indicating their wishes for end of life and emergency medical care, it is important to remember that, in Massachusetts, this document is not enforceable.

    Once your health care proxy has been executed, it is important to move on to the second step - have the conversation. In preparing to talk with family members about your end of life and emergency health care wishes, spend some time considering just what your wishes are. Our clients have found the following sites to be helpful resources during this process:

    Couples should spend some time making sure that they understand each other's wishes. Each of us should gather those likely to be most impacted by our future illness for an honest conversation - significant others, adult children, parents, siblings, successor health care agents. While the conversation can be in person, by Skype or Facetime, or on a conference call, it is helpful to share with everyone at once. This gives those we love important information about what we would and would not want, but also gives them a group of people who have also had the conversation with us, and who can help support the health care agent as he or she is making challenging decisions.

    Ideally, each of us will revisit this conversation with our families regularly - many families plan to discuss it annually, when they are together during the holiday season.

    If you are interested in talking further about health care proxies or other aspects of your estate plan, please call us at (781) 864-9977.

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