Health care directives allow Californians to decide who will make decisions for them if they cannot do so themselves. These legal documents designate the people who will make medical decisions for someone who is gravely ill or incapacitated.
The California health care directive can be in the form of a single instruction that only applies if a specific condition occurs. For example, a directive could state that a person is to be taken off life support if he is declared brain dead. Alternatively, the health care directive can be a power of attorney for health care. This is a broader set of instructions authorizing the designated agentto make health care decisions for someone. Most health care directives combine the two, containing both specific instructions and the designation of an agent.
In addition to medical decisions, the directive can include instructions on personal care. For example, the directive could specify that the agent may make decisions about “determining where the principal will live, providing meals, hiring household employees, providing transportation, handling mail, and arranging recreation and entertainment.” (Probate Code § 4671.) Further, the directive can nominate people to serve as conservators or guardians.
California law requires that a directive meet a series of specific requirements to be valid, such as being notarized or witnessed. (Probate Code § 4681.) If you previously signed a health care directive in another state that follows that state’s directive laws, then California law honors the directive.
A power of attorney for health care will not go into effect unless (1) you lack capacity to make medical decisions for yourself, or (2) some other event happens that is specified in the power of attorney. If it does go into effect, your agent can make any medical decisions that you previously would have made for yourself. An agent can even authorize actions after death, such as agreeing to an autopsy or making an anatomical gift.
Most health care directives do not list every possible medical decision that an agent might need to make. Instead, the law allows an agent to make decisions in line with the directive maker’s known wishes and personal values. Most people designate an agent in their directive with whom they are close. People often designate a spouse, a parent, a child, or a close friend.
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