There are several important documents to consider when developing an estate plan. Arguably, one of the most important documents to consider might be the advanced health care directive. This document is essentially a document that spells out what a person's wishes would be regarding potential medical treatment if they were ever to become incapacitated or unable to make their own decisions due to illness or disability.
Unfortunately, there is a significant probability that a person could find him or herself in such a situation that would require such a document, especially in their elder years; the advanced health care directive is an indispensable component of every Californian's estate plan.
The advance health care directive can do two basic things. It can serve as an instructional list to health care providers about what treatment a person may desire or reject under circumstances where they are unable to communicate directly. One common example is a "do not resuscitate" order or an order to cease life support after a certain period of days.
The advance health care directive can also name a person who will be charged with duty to make health care decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. This provides more flexibility than the option of merely creating a list of instructions, but it also requires more trust in the person who is given this tremendous decision-making power.
The directive can do both of these things, but generally the person given power of attorney to make health care decisions may not be able to make decisions that conflict with the specific instructions as provided.
Because of the importance of this document, California has a statutory advance health care directive form that provides a simple template for people to use. While the template can be useful, it is worth taking the time to obtain legal guidance about drafting documents for your estate plan and whether executing a health care directive is in your best interest.
Source: California Legislative Information, "Advance Health Care Directives," accessed April 14, 2015