Even if you’re not ready to put a comprehensive estate plan in place, every Californian who’s at least 18 should have a California Advance Health Care Directive.
This document allows you to designate your wishes for health care, including end-of-life care, if you’re unable to speak for yourself. This can happen to anyone at any age due to a serious accident or illness.
You can be as specific as you like regarding your wishes for pain relief and under what conditions you no longer want life-prolonging measures taken. You can even designate in this document if you want (or don’t want) organs, tissue and other body parts and for what purposes (for example, transplant, research and education).
What does a health care agent do?
While putting your wishes in writing is important, you also want to give a trusted person power of attorney (POA) over your health care that takes effect if you’re unable to communicate or make decisions for yourself. In California, that person is called your health care agent.
It’s crucial to have a designated agent with POA. This can help prevent painful, bitter family disputes over what you would want by making that known and having it documented.
A designated health care agent will be allowed to get information on your condition and treatment from those treating you and to make decisions on your behalf. If you have made your wishes known, you want a health care agent who will advocate for those wishes. That’s just one reason why you shouldn’t name someone for that responsibility without getting their agreement and making sure they’re comfortable with your wishes.
Be sure this information is accessible to the right people
It’s crucial that the right people have access to your advance directive and the POA naming your health care agent. Otherwise, they’re virtually useless. Your agent should have a copy. So should your primary care provider. It doesn’t hurt to have them somewhere on your phone as well, with your emergency contact information, in case you end up in the hospital while traveling.
As with most estate planning documents, you can always make changes if and when the need arises. However, it’s smart to have these documents in place as an insurance policy of sorts that you hope will never be needed. Having sound legal guidance as you draft or modify them can help you ensure that they’re legally valid and accurately and fully reflect your wishes.