Frequently Asked Questions About Elder Law
When is a good time for an elder to consult with an attorney?
It is never too early in life for an individual to consult with an attorney with regard to estate planning needs, health needs and asset protection needs. The earlier that an individual begins the process, the greater the likelihood that the client’s wishes are able to be fully developed and fulfilled. There is nothing more disheartening to the elder and to the elder’s heirs to reach a point where the elder is suddenly in need of significant medical care and the family realizes that the assets that the elder has worked a lifetime to accumulate are not protected.
As with choosing an attorney for any area of practice, review the attorneys in your area websites, talk to your trusted friends and family and try to determine which attorney has the experience and skills to protect you before it is too late.
What is a living will?
A living will can take many forms. Often a living will expresses general principles, such as the preference that no heroic measures be used or that treatment should be withheld if it would artificially prolong life. Other people list the specific kinds of treatment they would accept or reject, such as renal dialysis, chemotherapy, do not resuscitate orders or artificial nutrition and hydration (also known as tube feeding).
If you decide to write a living will, be as clear and specific as you can about your preferences for medical care, and be sure that it expresses your wishes accurately and completely.
What is a health care proxy?
Under Massachusetts law, if you are competent and at least 18 years old you may appoint another person – called your agent – to make decisions about your health care if you should become unable to do so. The document in which you name this person is called a health care proxy.
The person you choose as your health care agent will be called upon to make decisions about your medical care only if your health provider determines that you are unable to make or communicate such choices for yourself – for example, if you were unconscious, paralyzed or mentally incapacitated. Your agent is required to make decisions that are consistent with your religious or moral beliefs, including any instructions you may have put in a living will (which language can be incorporated into your health care proxy). If your wishes are not clear or if they fail to address the particular circumstance, your agent may exercise independent judgment about your medical treatment, taking into account your best interests. If you wish, you may write your health care proxy to put limits on your agent’s authority, or list your preferences about specific kinds of treatments.