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Advanced Directives: Everything You Need to Know

Power of Attorney

No one wants to think about their passing. However, planning for what will happen after death is an important responsibility adults need to take on when they have a family. One aspect of estate planning is the advanced medical directive. This directive helps you plan for how your health care will be met in the event of incapacitation.

Medical Directives

A medical directive, also called an advanced directive, is a legal document that goes into effect in the event you're unable to communicate. The directive consists of a living will and a medical power of attorney.

You set up the living will to communicate your preferences regarding medical care, including end-of-life wishes. The medical power of attorney allows you to appoint a spokesperson who takes over in case of incapacitation.

Living Wills

One of the big advantages of planning out your medical directive is you get to choose the type of health care you receive. Typically, this directive relates to instructions given to the physician in case you're incapacitated and can't indicate your wishes. The instruction usually relates to withholding or withdrawing medical interventions.

With advanced directives, you need to plan ahead of time. Talk to your general physician and your family, to make a decision about what kinds of intervention you want performed on you. The living will goes into effect if you are no longer able to make your own decisions.

Medical Powers of Attorney

No one can make a contingency plan for every aspect of an emergency or illness. The medical power of attorney allows for flexibility no matter what situation comes up. In this case, you select a person you trust to make decisions about your healthcare.

As with the advance directive, the power of attorney goes into effect if you're unable to make decisions yourself. These decisions are not only related to end-of-life intervention but also other medical decisions, such as whether or not to have surgery. This person may also have access to your medical records.

Advance Health Care Directives

Laws regarding medical directives vary by state. In California, the Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) provides the format for the medical directive. It's based on the Health Care Decisions Act. You're still devising a living will with your medical preferences. However, in California, the power of attorney has been replaced with a health care agent, who serves the same basic purpose.

One big difference is the old law, called the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, would expire after a given time, forcing people to redo the advanced directive.  The AHCD doesn't expire. Instead, you must revoke or change it if you no longer want the AHCD in effect.

Additionally, the AHCD allows you to make more involved health care decisions ahead of time. You can choose who your primary care physician will be. You can also indicate what kinds of pain medication, if any, you approve as well as other treatments. You can even include your organ donation wishes.

Health Care Agents

A big decision related to advanced directives is choosing the medical power of attorney or health care agent in California. Naturally, you'll want to choose someone you trust. Many people pick a spouse, sibling, or adult child. This topic should be part of the conversation you have with your family when discussing your living will.

When choosing your health care agent, make sure any potential candidates feel comfortable making such important decisions. Likewise, ensure candidates either feel similarly about your health care wishes or at least understand them well. Finally, you may wish to designate an alternate health care agent in case the first is unable or unwilling to make decisions.

Estate planning is a complicated process. You should incorporate medical directives as part of your overall estate plan. Let The Law Office of Leon A. Karjola guide you through the estate planning process.