Advance Health Care Directives: Why Does It Apply to Me?

hands holding a pen to fill out a form

Pre-planning ensures you have thought about what could possibly happen in the future. An advance directive allows you to give your loved ones a guideline on how you want your health care decisions handled. By considering your options early, you can minimize your family needing to “guess” how you would want critical medical care decisions handled. This alleviates stress for everyone: you, your family, your doctors, etc. Anyone 18 and older can make an advanced directive so even if you think it does not apply to you now, you should still pre-plan.

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What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

An advance health care directive lets your physician, family, and friends know your health care preferences – what you want and do not want. This includes decisions about special treatments at the end of life, diagnostic testing, specific surgeries, organ donation, etc. Perhaps you are against a certain treatment; you can opt out of the procedure in your advance directive. The advance health care directive is important because it gives you the ability to still make your own choices, even if you can no longer communicate.

How do I create an Advance Health Care Directive?

In order to be credible, the advance health care directive must be signed by two qualified adult witnesses or witnessed by a notary. The witnesses must sign the form on the same date it is signed by the person making the advanced health care directive. However, if you live in a nursing home, a residential care facility for the elderly or in an assisted living facility, the document must be witnessed by a representative from the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in order for the advance health care directive to be valid.

Start your own Advance Health Care Directive.

What is an “Agent”? How do I choose one?

An agent will have legal authority to make decisions about your medical care if you become unable to make these decisions for yourself. Your agent may make all health care decisions for you, unless you decide to limit the authority of your agent. Your agent will have the ability to:

  • Consent or refuse consent to:
    • Any care, treatment, service or procedure to maintain, diagnose or otherwise affect a physical or mental condition, per your specific instructions
    • Diagnostic tests, surgical procedures, and medication plans
    • Provision, withholding, or withdrawal of artificial feeding and fluids and all other forms of health care, including cardiop¬ulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Choose your health care providers, including doctors, therapists, and nursing facilities
  • Authorize an autopsy after your death, and make decisions about what will be done with your body, including organ and tissue donation

You can also have your agent make decisions for you right away even if you are still able to make your own decisions, or at a later date, when you become unable to make your own decisions.

Your appointed agent is generally a person who you trust, such as a family member or your attorney. By appointing that individual as your agent, you are asking him/her to manage all your health care needs. However, if you cannot decide on an agent, you do not need to choose one. As long as your advance directive is witnessed by two qualified adults, it is valid and your stated preferences must be followed. You can always choose to appoint an agent later.

Who cannot be my Agent?

An operator or employee of a community care facility or a residential care facility where you are receiving care; your doctor(s); or an employee of the health care institution where you are receiving care, unless your agent is related to you or is a coworker.

Where can I get more information?

AARP
“Women and Long Term Care, Living Will Allows You to Convey Medical Wishes”
“Why Advance Directives Are Important”

Helpguide.Org
“Advance Health Care Directives and Living Wills”

National Healthcare Decisions Day
“What is an Advance Directive?”

References:

Bet Tzedek Legal Services. (2014). Instruction to “California Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Instruction Form”. Retrieved from http://www.bettzedek.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/CPAHC-Instructions-2012.pdf

California Office of the Attorney General. (2014). Advance Health Care Directive Form Instructions. Retrieved from: http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/pdf/AHCDS1.pdf

California Office of the Attorney General. (2014). Advance Health Care Directive: What’s Important to You. Retrieved from: http://oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/adv_hc_dir