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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Health Care Directives Are About More Than Just ‘Pulling the Plug,’ Reveals Sacramento Probate Lawyer

July 10, 2010

Health Care Directives, commonly known as a Living Will in California, is a legal document that will give someone the authority to make medical decisions for you if you aren’t able to do so. This type of document is commonly associated with the decision of maintaining or removing life support for a critically ill loved one, but Living Wills cover far more than that.

A Health Care Directive, or Living Will in California, allows someone to:

  • Decide if you want your life to continue on life support or if you want to have them withhold treatment. (aka “pulling the plug”)
  • Pick a person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
  • Make decisions about pain relief options.
  • Decide if you want your organs to be donated.
  • To make any other decisions on about your health care and treatment.

A Living Will is essential for someone looking to have their wishes carried out in the event they die or become incapacitated.

The person you select to make the decisions for you is called your Healthcare agent. The agent will be acting on your behalf so their role is very important. When you are selecting your agent there are a few things that you should consider:

  • He or she must be over the age of 18.
  • He or she must be reliable and readily available in case something happens to you.
  • He or she must be emotionally able to make end of life decisions for you.
  • You should consider adding two to three alternative agents be selected in the case that the primary agent is unable or unwilling to make the critical decisions.
  • If you appoint your spouse as your agent, and your marriage is dissolved or annulled, your agent’s authority is automatically revoked, unless you specify otherwise.
  • If you are pregnant, your health care directive will not be honored. No matter who is your agent.

While a heath care directive can give someone the right to make all healthcare decisions for you, it is also possible to limit this decision-making by clearly defining what their scope of power includes. For example, you may decide that your healthcare agent has the authority to decide what type of pain relief that you are to be given, but limit their ability to decide whether or not to “pull the plug.” It is important to discuss this with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that you are very clear and specific in defining this scope.

Once a Health Care Directive is signed, dated, and notarized or witnessed by two qualified persons, the Living Will is valid forever, unless it is revoked by the individual. If the primary Agent refuses to follow the instructions dictated, the alternative Agents will be called upon to act on behalf of them, which is why it is important to name alternative Agents. The Agent will be given complete control of the person, which makes it very important to carefully select an Agent or to clearly outline your wishes that the Agent is forced to follow.

One final key point to consider when choosing your agent is that the person you choose should want to have this responsibility. There are people who do not want to make this decision – even for their own spouse. Remember, if the time comes that the health care directive needs to be used it is going to be a very high stress, emotional time for this person. Are they up for the job? Do they want the job? So, it is important to have a conversation with whomever you are considering to make sure that they can and will be willing and able to make the decisions that you would want them to make.

Setting up a living will that truly protects your wishes in the event of your incapacity starts by meeting with a Sacramento estate planning lawyer. Here at the Chubb Law Firm, we’ve made that process easier than ever by offering free Peace of Mind Planning Consultations (normally $750) each month to readers of our blog. However, these appointments are limited to 10 a month so call 916.241.9661 today to secure your spot.

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