What is a Living Will / Advance Health Care Directive?
It can be difficult to think about a time in your life where you may not be able to make medical decisions for yourself. Many of us associate this type of situation with aging or becoming terminally ill. However, an accident or sudden illness could suddenly strike down a healthy adult without warning. If this were to happen to you or your spouse, would either of you know each other’s wishes regarding what health care you want or do not want? Would your children or other family members know your preferences, either?
California residents can use the Advance Health Care Directive (ACHD) to make their wishes for medical care known legally.
The AHCD allows you to do two things that can take the pressure off family members and medical professionals in deciding what care should be provided and who should make health decisions on your behalf:
- Written Instructions for Future Health Care
- Appointing a Health Care Agent
#1: Written Instructions for Future Health Care
With ACHD, you can create a legal written document that states your wishes as to what medical treatments should be used or not used to keep you alive. It also indicates your preferences for other medical decisions that may need to be made if you are unable to make them for yourself in a life or death situation, including:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the use of devices that use an electrical shock to restart your heart if it stops beating
- Mechanical ventilation that could be used if you are unable to breathe on your own
- Tube feeding or intravenous feeding to supply your body with fluids and nutrients if you cannot eat or drink
- Dialysis that could be used to remove waste from your blood and manage fluid levels when your kidneys do not function
- Antibiotics or antiviral medicines that may be used to aggressively treat infections in trying to save your life
- Palliative care that states your wishes as to what steps should be taking to manage your pain and keep you comfortable without going against your decisions regarding other treatments
- Organ donation where you would agree to be kept on life-sustaining treatment during the retrieval process
- The decision to donate your body to science for research
#2: Appointing a Health Care Agent
The AHCD gives you the ability to designate a person to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to do so. Even though you may have written directions for your care, you should also appoint a health care agent. Also known as a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care” or “attorney-in-fact,” this individual will make decisions about your care if you are unable to speak for yourself.
When choosing a health care agent, consider the following requirements, the person:
- Must meet your state’s requirements for power of attorney, including being of legal age
- Cannot be your physician or be a member of your medical care team
- Must be able and willing to discuss your wishes for medical and end-of-life care with you
- Is trusted by you to follow through on the health care decisions you have made
- Can be trusted to act as your advocate if disagreements arise about your medical or end-of-life care
- Lives in your area if they will be needed to direct your treatment for an extended period
The person you choose can be your spouse, an adult child or other family member, trusted friend, your attorney, or a member of the clergy. You should also designate an alternate if your chosen person is unable to fulfill the role.
The AHCD allows you to limit the powers you give your health care agent or give them complete control. You may give him or her the right to:
- Choose or dismiss care providers
- Refuse or consent to treatment
- Access medical records protected under HIPAA guidelines
- Withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment
- Upon death, permit or restrict donations of your organs, request an autopsy, and authorize the disposition of your remains
You can revoke a health care agent at any time. Your health care agent can only begin making medical decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so.
The Advance Health Care Directive provides essential legal documents that should be included in your estate planning. Our professional team is ready to assist you so that your health care wishes are known if the unthinkable were to happen.