GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 5, 2013

Senior Lookout: Documents key to our estate planning

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — As part of the advance planning we do to alleviate our own suffering and perhaps make things easier on our families should something happen to us, there are several documents that Massachusetts residents should consider putting in to place.

The first is a health care proxy. This form allows you to designate, in advance, someone you trust, who is over age 18, to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself.

It only takes effect upon your physician’s notice, in writing, that you are incapable of making decisions for yourself, and you can limit your proxy’s authority, for example, by including a list of treatments you yourself would accept or reject if you could act for yourself. You can download a health care proxy form at the Hospice and Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts web site: http://www.hospicefed.org/proxy.html.

If you write a” living will” (in which you make end-of-life decisions while you are still competent to do so), your doctors are not legally obligated to follow your wishes in Massachusetts, since there is no provision for living wills here. Doing so is still one way to tell others how you feel about certain interventions, though, and may help others to decide what your wishes might be if you are not able to tell them.

In a hospital or nursing home setting, you do have the right to decide if you want CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or other heroic measures, undertaken to try to save your life. To do this, you would request a “DNR” order, or “do not resuscitate” order.

If you are not in a hospital or nursing home, but still would not want CPR or other resuscitation to take place, then you and your doctor must fill out a Comfort Care (CC)/DNR Order Verification Form and place it where emergency responders can find it quickly, such as in a File of Life (Gloucester residents can learn more about, or participate in, the File of Life program by calling the Rose Baker Senior Center at 978-281-9765. Residents of other cities and towns can contact local senior centers, police departments, or Triad groups for more information on File of Life or Yellow Dot (cards for use in automobiles) programs.

HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) health care providers, and health insurance companies from sharing information about you with family members or friends, unless you specifically authorize it.

If it’s important to you for a family member, friend, or domestic partner to be able to communicate with your health providers, you should fill out a HIPAA “Authorization for Release of Information” form. The form is available at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health web site: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/privacy/model-authorization-eng.pdf.

Even though living wills are not legal here, there’s a form called “Five Wishes” that you can use to alert family, friends, and providers how you would like to be treated if you can’t tell them. It’s available at the Aging with Dignity web page: http://www.agingwithdignity.org/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=28.

Think of all these documents as a way to gently start a usually uncomfortable conversation with family, or as a gift to those who might have to make decisions about your care, and who would like to do as you might have wished if you were making those decisions yourself.

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.