Independence for Elders since 1972
In recognition of Health Care Decisions Month, SeniorCare’s April blog post focused on how to set up a health care proxy. Read the full blog post below or link directly to the blog post here seniorcareinc.org/health-care-decisions-month . For information on becoming a someone’s health care agent see the information guide after the blog post.
April 1, 2022
April is Health Care Decisions Month. A couple years ago, when I heard of this month-long awareness campaign, I thought it was odd. I didn’t understand the importance of having an official health care proxy and discussing how I want my medical care to be handled if I become unable to make decisions on my own. I did not know that my family would not automatically be making these decisions. To ensure that my wishes are known, it was important to set up a health care proxy.
A health care proxy is a document in which an individual appoints an agent to legally make health care decisions on behalf of the patient when they are incapable of making and executing health care decisions. While a health care proxy can be setup with a lawyer when you prepare your will and other estate documents, it is not necessary to involve a lawyer in this specific document. A health care proxy can be completed at home and only needs your signature with two witnesses. (Note: you should work with a reputable attorney that specializes in estate planning when you prepare your estate documents.)
I downloaded my health care proxy form from the Honoring Choices Massachusetts website (www.honoringchoicesmass.com). This website will help you explore how to make care choices that are best for you. It has a step-by-step process that helps you to consider the various aspects of choosing an agent and discussing your wishes with them. It also has instructions on voiding a health care proxy if your circumstances change.
Once you have chosen a health care agent, you should discuss your feelings on various health care situations with your agent and your doctor(s). The Honoring Choices website has various scenarios that they suggest discussing. Copies of your signed and witnessed document should be placed in your personal files and given to your health care agent and your doctor.
Once you have your health care proxy in place, there are other written plans you should consider (you can find these documents on www.honoringchoicesmass.com).
• Personal Directive – this is a living will. It provides the person you name in your Health Care Proxy with detailed instructions as to how you would like to be cared for. This is not a legal document in Massachusetts, so you want to choose someone who will respect your wishes, even if it is emotionally difficult for them to do so.
• Durable Power of Attorney – this is assigning a person you trust to handle your money, property and financial matters. It does not have to be the same person you name in your Health Care Proxy. It is recommended, but not required under law, that you compete a Durable Power of Attorney with a lawyer who can advise you given your personal financial matters.
• Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) – This document communicates your choices regarding life-sustaining treatments should you become seriously ill. You and your family do not complete this form unless you become seriously ill, but there is a sample document on the website.
• Comfort Care/Do Not Resuscitate Order (CC/DNR) – This form indicates you do not want resuscitation efforts in the case your heart or breathing stops. It is completed by you, or your health care agent should the circumstances for making this decision arise.
I was very nervous about asking my daughter to be my health care agent. I was afraid that she would panic and worry that I was ill right now. But my fears were unfounded. We were able to have a conversation about how I feel about treatment options and a variety of situations. It wasn’t hard and it was a relief to know that this important task has been completed.
Health Care Proxy Responsibilities
You have agreed to be a Health Care Proxy (HCP) for someone. Now what?
1. The first thing you need to do is find out what’s important to the person that chose you. What are their wishes and instructions for care? You are NOT responsible for making decisions for them. You are their advocate. You are responsible to ensure their wishes are carried out if they cannot speak for themselves. This is the most important step. Using a Personal Directive is a good way for a person to make their wishes known.
2. Before agreeing to be someone’s HCP, make sure you are comfortable carrying out their wishes. For instance, if a loved one does not want to be kept on life support are you going to be able to tell the doctor to ‘pull the plug’?
3. An HCP cannot ‘step in’ unless a physician invokes the HCP. This means the HCP document is activated by a doctor’s order because the person is unable to make their own decisions. This can be long-term or for just a short time. If the person regains the ability to make decisions, the HCP no longer has authority.
How is an HCP different than a Power of Attorney (POA)?
1. A POA is a legal document that appoints a trusted person to manage and protect financial matters for another.
2. A POA can make decisions about money, property, and business affairs if a person is no longer able to make those decisions for themselves. This means the POA can do things such as paying bills, signing checks, buying or selling property, or managing a business.
3. A POA can ‘step in’ whenever they are told to – either immediately or once the person becomes incapacitated. This information will be listed in the document.
4. The POA document also lists the exact decision-making powers you will have. You can have authority over all financial affairs or just specific ones.
5. Just like an HCP, it is important to understand what is important to the person who chose you and act in their best interest.
SeniorCare, Inc. is a consumer centered organization that provides and coordinates services to elders and others who need assistance to enable them to live independently at home or in a setting of their choice while remaining part of their community. They provide services to residents of Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield, and Wenham. Visit them at seniorcareinc.org .