In California, an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) protects your health care rights. You make your health care, end of life, organ donation, and even memorial/burial/cremation/spiritual decisions now so if something happens to you, your wishes will be followed by the person (agent) you choose.
DIY: You Can Do It Yourself, Right Now!
You have the right to speak for yourself and make decisions about your own health care. But if something happens to you and you cannot speak for yourself, no one has the right to speak for you (or to your doctors or medical team!). That’s why it is so important for everyone over the age of 18 to have a completed AHCD.
While estate planning attorneys like me can advise you and help you with your AHCD, you can complete one right now as long as you are not incapacitated.
To make it legally binding, you would then either (1) have it notarized; or (2) have it witnessed by two people. The two witnesses cannot be your agent and they cannot be part of your health care team. Also, one of the witnesses must not be related to you and cannot inherit anything from your estate.
Choose Your Agent
Your first decision in completing your AHCD is to choose your Agent, or the person who will make your health care decisions for you.
This is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. You must choose someone who will follow your wishes, but also be able to make judgement calls based on your values. They may face opposition from your medical team and peer pressure from other loved ones, so you need someone who will fight for you. They will also be dealing with a myriad of emotions, so make sure your person can make difficult decisions under the most trying of circumstance.
We always suggest that you name one person and two alternates in case there is an emergency and the first person you named is not reachable.
Make Your Decisions For Health Care
Next, you’ll make decisions about end-of-life health care. If doctors say your condition is irreversible, incurable, and you are unlikely to regain consciousness, you can choose to not prolong life (also known as the ‘pull the plug’ choice) or prolong life as long as possible.
You can decide if you want treatment to alleviate pain and discomfort, even if it will hasten your death, as well as write out your own specific instructions.
Donate Organs, Tissues, And Parts – Or Don’t!
This is a personal choice with no right or wrong answer. But it is important that you make your wishes known and do your research on what will happen if you make certain types of donations.
For example, if you donate your body to education, your family will likely receive only your ashes after a specific period of time. These arrangements must be made with the specific institutions as they each have their own criteria and policies, so please contact them directly.
Designate Your Primary Physician
If you have a trusted primary care physician, you can designate that doctor to act in that role for you.
Have The Difficult Conversations…Now!
It’s not easy to think about our own mortality and even more challenging to talk about incapacity and death with our loved ones, but having these conversations is the most important part of advance care planning.
Your agent will never be able to truly step into your shoes and make difficult decisions for you if you don’t express your wishes and share what’s most important to you in regard to your acceptable quality of life. It’s just as important to have these conversations with the rest of your loved ones, so that if the time comes that someone must act as your agent, others don’t challenge your intended wishes.
Planning should not only safeguard your wishes but help bring those who love you closer together in such difficult times.
There’s No Time Like The Present
We don’t know what the future holds, so please don’t procrastinate. You can complete California’s Statutory Advance Health Care Directive right now. Its easy-to-follow instructions will help you get this done. We’ve provided the link below, as well as a link to our Advance Health Care Directive Toolkit. There you can find links to other free versions of the AHCD, as well as not-for-profits who offer help with them.
We’ve also provided a link to The Conversation Project’s Conversation Starter Guide. We’re proud to partner with this not-for-profit whose goal is to help people share their wishes for care through the end of life.