An advance health care directive (also called a durable power of attorney for health care) is the best way to make sure that your health care wishes are known and considered if for any reason you are unable to speak for yourself. In California, it allows you to do any or all of the following:

  • Designate one or more persons (called your "agent" or "attorney-in-fact") to have legal authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are disabled or incapacitated and unable to make those decisions yourself.
  • State your health care wishes and other personal care requests - for example, a desire not to receive treatment that only prolongs the dying process if you are terminally ill. Your doctor and your agent must follow your lawful instructions.
  • State your after-death wishes, such as preference to become an organ or tissue donor, whether to authorize an autopsy, and giving directions regarding funeral and interment or cremation.
You can grant your health care agent as much or as little authority as you wish, subject to any applicable state law restrictions. Your agent must make decisions consistent with any instructions in your advance health care directive. If you have provided a valid advance health care directive, physicians and other health care professionals will look to your agent for decisions rather than your next of kin or any other person. Your agent will be able to accept or refuse medical treatment, have access to your medical records, and make decisions about donating your organs, authorizing an autopsy, and disposing of your body if you die. Again, your agent will have no authority to make decisions for you unless you are unable to make those decisions yourself.

Without an advance health care directive, your family may find it necessary to guess your desires and/or obtain court orders to deal with your medical situation. It could also create some unpleasant disputes and lead to unnecessary emotional anguish among family members.

Your advance health care directive is valid until you revoke it. You can revoke or change an advance health care directive at any time.

A living will is similar to an advance health care directive, but it gives specific powers to the health care agent to make decisions regarding continuation of life support if you are determined to be in a terminal condition or a vegetative state. In most states you would need a living will in addition to an advance health care directive. In California, the living will used to be called a "Natural Death Act." However, the advance health care directive is now the legally recognized format for a living will in California, replacing the Natural Death Act. Thus, you do not need a separate living will if you have already stated your wishes about life-sustaining treatment in an advance health care directive. An advance health care directive allows you to state your wishes about refusing or accepting life-sustaining treatment in any situation.

While all states recognize advance health care directives, the law varies as to recognizing a document prepared in another state. It is not necessary to prepare additional documents in case you might vacation in another state. However, if you spend a considerable amount of time living in more than one state, you should consider having advance directives prepared in each of the states where you spend significant periods of time.

Your advance health care directive is obviously a critical document that could literally have life-affecting consequences. Thus, it must accurately carefully drafted by a competent attorney. Contact Collins Law Corporation today to create your advance health care directive and the rest of your estate plan.