Making the decision to appoint someone to handle your health care needs as you get older is a smart estate planning move. An advanced healthcare directive is a legal document that designates a person to make health care decisions for another, and can be used for when you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. There are many advantages to setting up a health care directive, the most important being that it gives you peace of mind. The best way to make sure your health care decisions are made according to your wishes is to make sure you choose the right person to represent you.

What Can the Advanced Healthcare Directive Agent Do?

Unless you limit the powers of an advanced healthcare directive agent, he or she will generally have authority under California law to do the following:

  • Give approval or refuse to give approval for any care or treatment affecting your physical or mental condition;
  • Choose or fire health care providers and institutions;
  • Approve or disapprove tests, surgery, and medication associated with your care;
  • Direct whether you can receive health care such as artificial nutrition or be removed from life-support; and
  • Make decisions on donating your organs or authorizing an autopsy.

The person you choose to be your advanced healthcare directive  agent can be a family member or a friend. The agent cannot be your doctor or other medical staff that work for that doctor, or the health care facility you are living in. There is an exception to this restriction if the doctor or medical staff are related to you.

However, because the advanced healthcare directive agent will be tasked with such an important part of your life, there are other non-legal qualities you should consider before appointing an agent. Your agent should be somebody you trust with your life and can easily talk to about your wishes and expectations for your medical care. It is important to choose someone you can talk to freely, and someone who can tell you if there are misunderstandings between what you expect and what they understand your wishes to be. The directions you give for your medical care do not have to list out exact medical procedures and care, but they have to clearly show your intent.

Additionally, you should choose someone who can be firm and assertive about ensuring your wishes are followed. This is important if the family has any problems with your wishes. If the doctors or hospital that will be providing care is resistant to certain approaches with your treatment, the agent also has to be a strong advocate for you in those cases.

You can always change your agent if you change your mind before you are incapacitated. You have to make this change in writing and tell your healthcare provider. Therefore, while this is an important decision that should not be taken lightly, if you fall out with a previously chosen agent, you can replace him or her.

Contact A People’s Choice for Help

The California probate code provides a form that you can fill in to create an advance healthcare directive. If you want to create a custom advance healthcare directive, you can contact A People’s Choice for affordable, non-attorney help in preparing the document. A People’s Choice can also help with preparing other estate planning documents.

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