Throughout the course of your life you will make thousands of decisions relating to your health and the healthcare treatment you receive. For the most part, you will probably not give much thought to the fact that you have the ability to make these decisions; however, if you were suddenly deprived of the ability to make your own healthcare decisions you would certainly start paying attention! In essence, that is exactly what could happen if you were to become incapacitated and failed to plan ahead for that possibility. Someone else would be forced to make healthcare decisions for you. Worse still, you would not be able to choose who that person is. Fortunately, however, that worst case scenario can be avoided. By executing a healthcare directive, you have the ability to decide ahead of time who will make decisions for you and even make some decisions ahead of time.
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Healthcare Directive in Place?
One of the many rights be enjoy in the United States is the right to make medical and healthcare related decisions for ourselves, including decisions relating to end of life procedures and treatment. The ability to exercise that right, however, can taken away, from a practical standpoint, by your own incapacity. If you become incapacitated as the result of a tragic accident, terminal illness, or age related dementia, you will not be able to make decisions for yourself. If you failed to plan for that possibility, someone will have to step in and seek authority to make those decisions for you. Unfortunately, the right to make decisions for you can turn into a legal battle that could tear apart your family if more than one person decides to seek that authority. The end result could be a fractured family and someone you would never have chosen being placed in charge of your healthcare decisions.
What Is a Healthcare Directive?
A healthcare directive is a legal document that allows an individual to make healthcare decisions in advance and/or to appoint an Agent to make those decisions on his/her behalf. Each state determines what, if any, healthcare directives will be honored by the state and what language must be used in the document if any are recognized. In the State of California, two types of healthcare directives are recognized – a “Power of Attorney for Healthcare” and an “Individual Instructions.”
What Do the California Healthcare Directives Accomplish?
A Power of Attorney for Healthcare is an advanced directive that allows you to designate an Agent. Your Agent will step in and make decisions for you “when your primary doctor determines that you lack the ability to understand the nature and consequences of your health care decisions or the ability to make and communicate your health care decisions.” A successor Agent can also be appointed in your POA for Healthcare form. Finally, you also have the option to allow your Agent to make decisions for you now, even though you are able to make them for yourself. If you wish to exercise this option, you must make that choice in the POA for Healthcare document that you execute.
The other advanced directive recognized in California, known as an “Individual Instructions,” is what most people refer to as a “Living Will.” In your Individual Instructions document you are able to make end of life healthcare treatment decisions. Specifically, you can authorize your healthcare providers to prolong your life, or not prolong your life, under certain conditions, including:
- If you have an incurable and irreversible condition that will result in your death within a relatively short time
- You become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, you will not regain consciousness
- The likely risks and burdens of treatment would outweigh the expected benefits
Along with decisions relating to prolonging your life, you also have the option to authorize your healthcare providers to provide you with pain medication, even if it could hasten the end of your life. Finally, you can include any additional instructions related to end of life treatment, or refusal of treatment.
If you have additional questions or concerns relating to California advance directives and how they might fit into your estate plan, contact the experienced California estate planning attorneys at Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to schedule an appointment.