Advance Health Care Directives for Californians

Baby boomer and his mom, safe because they have Advance Health Care Directives

This Baby Boomer & his mom are covered by Advance Health Care Directives

We mention Advance Health Care Directives throughout this site, so you know they are an important part of taking care of your own future. We’d like to explain them a bit here, and when you come to us for a consultation or as a client, we’ll make sure you have a full understanding of what an Advance Health Care Directive is and what yours will do for you.

What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

An Advance Health Care Directive is a special Power of Attorney specifically for health care purposes that defines your specific health care instructions, organ donation wishes, your physician, your burial.

Should you find yourself in a situation where you are not able to make decisions for yourself, your Advance Health Care Directive will provide one or more persons of your choosing with the authority to make critical decisions on your behalf.

That person or those people, are called your Agent — or Healthcare Agent or Healthcare Proxy or Representative.

You’ve likely also heard the term Living Will and wonder if you should have a Living Will instead. To clarify, a Living Will is an Advance Directive — but it takes effect only when the person for whom it is written is terminally ill. The State of California does not use Living Wills. California uses the Advance Health Care Directives for health care decisions instead.

As you create your Advance Health Care Directive it’s important to specify which actions are to be taken in the event certain circumstances arise — and what you don’t want as well.

Your Advance Health Care Directives must to be drafted to meet your specific desires as it will be the guiding force in your end of life situations, including but not limited to, determining when and whether life support systems should be terminated. (May that be a long happy time from now.)

The Advance Health Care Directive must be signed while you are healthy and mentally capable.

Completing an Advance Health Care Directive is the responsible thing to do — for your sake and the sake of your loved ones, on whom the weight of responsibility will otherwise fall heavily.

This document in place does not take away any of your authority. As long as you are competent, you make your choices. You also get to change your mind about what you want. (Just remember to change your Directive if you do.)

Advance Health Care Directives are not just for “old” people

Rock climbers, covered by Advance Health Care Directives in place

Rock climbers, covered by Advance Health Care Directives

With all this talk about end of life and becoming incompetent, everyone under 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 may be thinking, “this is not necessary for me yet” and folks in the 20s and 30s are typically not thinking about this issue at all.

While youth is usually far from the end of your life, we never know what life holds for us. Being young typically means being far from needing someone to make decisions and take care of you.

But what if the worst happens and an accident leads you to life support? Do you want to be in a bed on life support for 10, 20, 30 years? It could happen.

Imagine the anguish your loved ones would go through, unsure of what you’d like, second guessing themselves and going in what-if circles? Maybe you’d want to remain on systems or maybe not.

Die at home? Die in a hospital?
Have experimental surgeries? Or not?
Resuscitate? Or not?

What if you’d like to be cremated but your loved ones want you buried — or vice versa?

We know this is not an easy topic and it’s difficult to make these choices. But if you have an opinion as to what you’d like to happen to you in case of an accident, please consider your loved ones and give them instructions — and this power to carry out your wishes, whatever those wishes are.

And if you’re not sure, consider having the conversation.

Be careful and be informed

We’ve all heard the words “be careful what you wish for” — meaning that you need to be very clear in your wishes. Wishing for a pile of money isn’t going to help you if that pile of money comes down on your head in gold bricks and clobbers you as it arrives.

When you tell us don’t hook me up to a machine, we’re going to remind you that a machine is needed to keep your heart going during heart surgery. We’ll help you be specific. Wordiness is ok when it comes to the what-ifs of your health and future care.

Tips on choosing your Agent (aka Healthcare Proxy, Healthcare Agent, Representative)

You are free to name any competent person as your representative. Typically a person chooses a spouse or other family member, but it can also be a close friend or other trusted person. The important thing is that when this person makes decisions on your behalf, he or she acts as you would wish. It’s a good idea to make sure this person will honor any strong religious or other moral conviction you may have. It’s not uncommon for family members or friends to have differing views. Will your family member or friend honor yours? Sometimes your family members are the people who know you best, but sometimes although they’re certain they know you best, they actually know you far less well than your best friend.

If, while you are competent, you have misgivings about the person you’ve named as your agent, you are free to change the document and name someone else. (In fact, as you go through our Estate Plan review under our maintenance plan, we’ll ask you if you’re still comfortable with your choice — and make sure your elected representative is still competent himself.)

Please do not let uncertainty stop you from completing your own Advance Health Care Directive.