As our parents grow older, underlying health conditions become more apparent as the symptoms of these diseases begin to affect their quality of life. Although the focus of estate planning in Massachusetts and elsewhere is usually on the allocation of financial assets after death, planning for future medical needs of elderly loved ones should also be a priority.
It is important to include discussions with a parent or older relative about healthcare decisions they or their family may have to make. Chronic conditions or existing diseases will likely get worse with age, and diseases like diabetes, or conditions such as hypertension and high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attacks or other disability.
For residents of Boston and surrounding areas, it is essential to develop a plan for future medical needs that honors the wishes of an elderly person regarding their choice of palliative care and other end-of-life decisions.
Essential documents to include in estate planning
Developing an elder care plan with an experienced estate planner can help families to target the end-of-life priorities they have for their loved ones, and to make informed decisions using the legal instruments available to them. Some of these documents may have different names according to which state you are in, but they all fall into the category of advance directives:
- A proxy, also called a Durable Power of Attorney, designate a loved one or medical professional to make important medical decisions on behalf of the maker, often with the option to name a secondary proxy if the primary individual is unable to fulfill this function
- Living wills, which give specific directives concerning the maker’s choices for treatment, especially in the case of terminal illness, and palliative care options
- Do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders that identify the conditions in which the patient does not wish to be resuscitated
Massachusetts law does not officially recognize living wills but does allow individuals to designate their own healthcare proxies, where they may provide living will instructions and personal directives concerning end-of-life decisions. These documents provide legal protection for the wishes of those who can no longer speak for themselves, and guarantee that a trusted individual will serve in that role on their behalf as well as oversee their medical needs.