One of the most important documents to include in your estate plan in California is an Advance Health Care Directive. Actually, it’s wise for any adult to have in place, even if they’re not yet ready to develop a full estate plan.
An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to document your wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care so that they can be known if you’re unable to speak for yourself. This can happen if someone suffers a stroke, is seriously injured, falls into a coma or in any number of other scenarios.
The directive allows you to specify what types of treatment you do and do not want and what steps you do or do not want taken to keep you alive under various conditions. For example, maybe you want life-prolonging measures to end if it’s determined that you’ll never regain consciousness or are diagnosed as terminal.
The role of your health care agent
Most people who put an Advance Health Care Directive in place name an agent, whom they give power of attorney (POA) over their health care decisions. That person is allowed to speak with your medical team about your condition and treatment and provide direction based on your documented wishes.
Doctors are typically required to follow the wishes detailed in an advance directive unless they have a conscientious objection to them, hospital policy doesn’t allow them or they’re considered medically unsound. However, they would have to notify your agent. They can’t just go against your wishes.
When choosing someone to be your health care agent, it’s wise to review your directive with them to make sure they’re comfortable advocating for your wishes. If they’re not, it’s better to choose someone who is.
Once your directive is complete, you should make sure that your primary care physician and any other doctors you see regularly have a copy on file. This can expedite things if they can’t immediately get in touch with your agent. It’s also a good idea to make sure that a family member or other emergency contact can access the document if you become injured or ill while traveling.
Having an Advance Health Care Directive in place can help ensure that you can speak for yourself even when you can’t. It can also give your loved ones peace of mind at a difficult time that they’re doing what you wanted.