Attorneys For Advance Health Care Directives

An advance healthcare directive designates someone you trust to make decisions regarding life-sustaining steps and other healthcare measures in the event you become incapacitated. As with wills, many people have definite ideas about what medical procedures they do or do not want to be implemented should the need arise, but they fail to put them into a legal document. These decisions are best made well ahead of when they are needed.

The attorneys at Hackard Law, a professional law corporation, in Sacramento, build clear, comprehensive healthcare directives into the estate plans they develop for clients throughout California, especially Santa Clara and Los Angeles.

Your Wishes Are Expressed in a Living Will

The document in which you make your wishes known about what types of medical treatment you want to receive in certain situations is commonly referred to as a "living will." Failure to create a living will could leave your loved ones in the uncomfortable position of guessing what your wishes are. They may need to go through drawn-out legal procedures to obtain the authority to make a medical decision.

Here again, taking the proper steps to make your wishes known through a living will and designating one individual who can act on your behalf through an advance healthcare directive is something you do for your loved ones as much as yourself. It is typically done at the same time that you establish a durable power of attorney for financial decisions.

What Can Advance Health Directives Do for You?

California law seeks to make it simple for individuals to set forth in advance legal controls over their own healthcare even should they become incapacitated-temporarily or otherwise-by medical conditions. The law provides a broad array of tools that allow you to personally customize a course of action for your future healthcare, regardless of whether you are able to actively participate in those future decisions. The point of the law is to ensure that doctors honor your health-care wishes especially when you are not able to participate in those decisions at the time.

To that end, it is important to understand what California law regarding advance healthcare directives can and cannot do. At its core, the Advance Health Care Directive, or AHCD, lets you guide your future healthcare by two different methods. You can use these methods concurrently. You can:

Appoint an agent to direct your healthcare. This involves setting up what is known as a "Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care." The person you designate will have the legal power to make your healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make those decisions on your own because of your medical condition. For instance, if you are in a coma but have appointed a healthcare agent, that agent is legally empowered to make healthcare decisions before you based upon the guidance you provided before you were incapacitated. That actually plays in nicely with the other power given you under AHCD law.

Give written instructions detailing what healthcare measures you do and do not want if you are unable to communicate your desires contemporaneously. You can give very specific written instructions in an AHCD, and those instructions will govern your healthcare, even if you are not able to speak for yourself at the time.

This structure allows you to choose an agent who will act in the spirit of the wishes you have expressed. Also, the structure ensures that you can provide explicit directions for various situations, just in case you think your agent might not interpret the "spirit of the wishes you have expressed" completely accurately. Particularly when agents are close friends or family members, they might not always do exactly what you would have wanted. Often, emotion becomes involved and agents can convince themselves that a certain course of action is what you would have wanted had you really thought about it. That's why the law lets you appoint an agent and also provide written guidance. It likely is a good idea to do both.

To ensure that your ACHD is legally valid and will direct decisions regarding your healthcare when you cannot do so, it must satisfy several requirements. Your completed directive must have your name, signature, the date of execution, and either be notarized or have the signature of two witnesses. Keep the original in a place known to your family or close friends. You should give a copy to your primary care physician, as well as your alternate ACHD agent or agents. You also should put a copy on file at any healthcare facilities at which you are receiving care. Keep some kind of notification on your person that lets people know that you have an AHCD.

Who Should-and Who Can-Serve as Your Healthcare Agent?

Obviously, your healthcare agent could have a lot of power over the course of your healthcare if you are incapacitated. That places a heavy emphasis on appointing an agent whom you trust to do what you would decide to do yourself if you were able. It also makes it likely that you should draft written healthcare instructions to guide your healthcare agent. It also dictates that you should pick your healthcare agent carefully. For many people, close family members seem to be a natural choice, including spouses. Close friends and domestic partners also frequently make the list. Whether a family member or friend is the best choice depends upon your family members and friends, really. Sometimes, it might be better to choose a stranger who has explicit instructions. That removes any emotional component from your healthcare agent's decisions. Obviously, the choice is yours.

Whoever the person is in terms of relationship, it should be someone you trust to follow your wishes. That person should be familiar with any strongly held religious beliefs you might have, as well as other strong opinions regarding ongoing healthcare. The best way to avoid confusion, obviously, is to pick a healthcare agent and to provide written directives. Even in such a situation, though, there can be room for confusion.

For that reason, you should be sure to discuss in detail what you would prefer in terms of healthcare options in the event of serious illness or injury. If you draft written instructions, it would be helpful to have detailed discussions with your healthcare agent regarding how you want those instructions interpreted, particularly if the agent is a close friend or family member. Ensure that your agent will act on your instructions and wishes faithfully, without succumbing to emotion-based decisions (unless, of course, you want them to).

Regardless of your wishes, though, certain people are not allowed to act as your healthcare agent. Your agent cannot be the person in charge of supervising your healthcare, nor can the agent be the operator or an employee of any residential healthcare facility at which you are receiving medical care. An exemption for the latter applies if the employee is a relative of yours. You also should choose an alternate healthcare agent who fits all of the criteria of your first choice to be your healthcare agent.

Your healthcare agent can exercise as much decision-making power as you grant. This power can be as expansive or restrictive as you like with respect to health-care decisions. The more expansive you make the power, the more likely it is that you should also provide written instructions to avoid confusion.

Help With Advance Healthcare Directives is Available in Many Places

California's AHCD law is intended to be simple. Toward that end, a number of online packages are available to give you a start, including from the University of California-Davis and other sources. These sources provide a good starting point, but as with any life-and-death situation, it usually is best to rely upon someone who focuses upon that particular subject area when you need help. For many people, this could include seeing legal assistance to ensure that your ACHD actually provides the guidance and decision-making power that you want it to.

Schedule a Meeting Now

One of our lawyers at Hackard Law can answer your questions regarding advance healthcare directives and recommend the best course of action during a free consultation. Use our contact form or call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles to schedule a meeting.