Who takes care of you if you cannot care for yourself?
Do you know who will take care of you if you are so sick that you cannot make your own healthcare decisions? Will that person be legally allowed to talk to your doctor and make decisions on your behalf? And, will that person know how YOU would make those decisions yourself?
A California Advance Health Care Directive lets you answer yes to each of these questions. The directive includes three parts: 1) a medical power of attorney; 2) a living will and 3) a HIPAA disclosure authorization.
How to Choose Your Health Care Agent
My advice for choosing people who will act on your behalf starts with making lists. First, make a list of everyone (over 18 years old) you trust more than a state supplied social worker, these could be immediate family, relatives, family friends, trusted advisors. Second, make a list of the QUALITIES that are important to you in a decision maker, such as responsibility, compassion, ability to understand medical personnel involved in your care, and your values regarding life and medical decisions.
Then, compare the two lists, crossing off people who don’t meet your criteria. Finally order the remaining people on the list. I recommend choosing at least three people, one person to be the agent and to alternates. It is important to have a “bench” to go to if the starting player is unable to act in their designated roll.
In choosing your Health Care Agent, think carefully about the guidelines and restrictions that you give your agent. If your instructions are too restrictive, it might make it impossible for your agent to act in your best interest. Sometimes, it is best to have discussions with your agent about your desires, but leave the written instructions a bit more general to give flexibility to meet the needs of the moment.
Making Your Health Care Wishes Known
A living will is a written document that helps you tell doctors how you want to be treated if you are dying or permanently unconscious and cannot make your own decisions about emergency treatment. Specific decisions on the California Statutory Advance Health Care Directive include the choice to “prolong life” or not to prolong life. In other words, do you want to be kept on life support in the event you suffer a terminal injury or disease?
Your personal values are what matter here:
- If you have a stroke and are unable to move or speak, and have a heart attack, would you want CPR?
- If you suffer from dementia and have terminal cancer, would you want to be treated for pneumonia?
You also have the opportunity to make your wishes regarding palliative care known. Palliative care are the measures taken to make you comfortable rather than saving or prolonging your life.
- If you are in pain at the end of your life, would you want medication to block the pain, even if it leaves you less aware of your surroundings and lethargic?
You can include your wishes regarding organ donation. This section goes beyond the little pink dot on your California Driver’s License. Commonly donated organs include the heart, lungs, pancreas, kidney, corneas, liver and skin. The living will allows you to set limits on how your organs will be used. For example, you can state that you do NOT want to be used for educational or medical research purposes. There is no age limit for organ or tissue donation.
There are no right and wrong answers here, just your personal beliefs about your body.
Allowing your doctors to talk to your Health Care Agent
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) was passed by Congress in 1996. The purpose of this law is to protect your medical privacy. It prohibits a medical provider to release certain protected information unless they have a signed written authorization by the patient.
The HIPPA disclosure authorization included in the California Health Care Directive provides this authorization for the people named in the document, so that they can discuss the specifics of your care with your doctors.
Free California Advance Health Care Directive
In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, and in service to our community, Thatcher | Law is offering FREE Advance Health Care Directives to California residents.
If you are interested in preparing your California Advance Health Care Directive, you can request a free download.
While a vital document, the Advance Health Care Directive is just one of several elements of a comprehensive estate plan. (These documents are discussed in this article.)
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of a comprehensive estate plan, which can include a Revocable Living Trust, Will, Financial Power of Attorney and other important documents, contact Thatcher | Law to schedule a virtual consultation (live, in person, appointments will be offered once the COVID-19 pandemic emergency stay at home measures are lifted.