An Advance Health Care Directive is a document which allows an individual to appoint one or more medical decision makers to assist should they ever be unable to make decisions themselves. Advance Health Care Directives also allow individuals to customize their wishes for end of life and life sustaining medical treatments.
These documents are useful in times of both temporary incapacity (such as a hospital stay) and permanent incapacity. Many people assume these documents are only important later in life, but this is not the case. An Advance Health Care Directive can be a crucial, useful tool for adults of all ages. Below we discuss six reasons to create an Advance Health Care Directive.
No Default Medical Decision Maker In California
In California, the law does not provide for a default decision maker to step in and assist you with medical care decisions during periods of incapacity. A common assumption is that spouses would be the default decision makers for each other if there were a need. However, this is not the law in California.
This means your doctors and care team do not have to permit spouses to step in for each other in this way. Creating an Advance Health Care Directive to clearly and unequivocally appoint your spouse or other decision maker is the best way to ensure you have a say in who makes medical care decisions for you if you are not able to yourself.
Retain Control Over Personal Decisions
Planning for care at the end of life or even during temporary incapacity can be challenging for all those involved. Not only is it an emotionally taxing process, but there are many delicate decisions to be made as well. Some of these decisions may include which hospital or medical facility you wish to receive care from, what kinds of life sustaining treatments you are open to, and whether you wish to acknowledge your religious beliefs during treatment or at the end of life. Some clients, for example, wish to adhere to their faith when making medical care decisions, while others have different goals such as maximizing their comfort and time with loved ones. These decisions are personal, and without an Advance Health Care Directive you could leave them open for anyone to decide.
Advance Health Care Directives Are Totally Customizable
Advance Health Care Directives are completely customizable. Clients can opt for a simpler approach, a complex account of all their specific care wishes, or something in between. We at Weiner Law can also assist by discussing these important decisions with you to ensure your directive will include as much information as you wish. This level of flexibility allows you to clearly instruct family, friends, and medical staff on how and when you wish to receive certain medical care.
When creating an Advance Health Care Directive, clients can find comfort in knowing their decisions do not have to be permanent. Creating an initial directive allows you to prepare for any unforeseeable circumstances that might occur. But you can always revisit your directive to make changes as you progress through life. The named decision makers, treatment wishes, and other choices in your directive can be changed at any time by executing a new Advance Health Care Directive.
Share Your Wishes With Your Medical Care Team
Advance Health Care Directives are also important tools to bridge the communication gap that may exist between patients and their medical providers. Once you execute a directive, best practice is to send a signed copy (also witnessed or notarized) to your primary physician or medical institution.
You can instruct your institution to add this information to your patient file so any provider working on your case in the future will be aware of your medical wishes. Sharing this document with your care team eliminates the need for hasty conversations when incapacity may be approaching and ensures you receive informed, personalized care from the start.
Starts The Conversation With Loved Ones
Discussing the end of life or medical care wishes are not always tasks people look forward to. The conversations can be difficult or uncomfortable if you have not thought about your medical care choices in advance. Creating an Advance Health Care Directive is a great way to begin this conversation with loved ones. With a directive there to guide your discussion, you can explain your important decisions, why they matter to you, and find support from your loved ones who will uphold your wishes.
An Advance Health Care Directive is an important tool to explain your wishes to people in your life, but also to encourage those around you to prepare for their own medical care in the future.
Contact Weiner Law to discuss creating an Advance Health Care Directive today. We can guide you through the process and help you feel more at ease knowing your medical care decisions are recorded and unambiguous.
For more information about Advance Health Care Directives, please see the resources below.
- California Office of the Attorney General – guide for end of life planning, hospice care, and more resources.
- Sharp Advance Care Planning – four steps to beginning the advance planning process.
- UCSF Prepare for Your Care – introductory guide discussing what advance directives are and why they are important; includes videos, pamphlets, and question guides.
- Rabbinical Assembly Jewish Advance Directive booklet – although not California specific, this booklet is an example of how clients can adhere to their religious beliefs during end of life care by customizing their advance directives in accordance with their faith.