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Why should you have an advanced health care directive?

If you're a Californian doing your estate planning, it's essential to understand that it can, and maybe should, involve more than a will and other documents that detail how you want your assets disbursed after your death. For example, you can designate your wishes for your health care ahead of time in case you are unable to speak for yourself later.

California has something called an advanced health care directive. It lets you designate what type of procedures you want medical professionals to take to prolong your life and under what circumstances you want life-extending measures to end.

As one California estate planning attorney notes, these directives often address what people want to happen if they are going to be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of their lives. "Do you want to be kept alive forever, or do you want to have life-sustaining measures terminated? Many people don't want to be kept alive if there is no hope of ultimately surviving."

An advanced health care directive can also state what type of palliative care you want. For example, do you want to receive morphine that would ease your pain but possibly hasten your impending death?

Some people's worst nightmare is something called "locked-in syndrome." This is a rare condition where all voluntary muscles are paralyzed except for those that control the eyes. People who suffer from this are conscious and awake, with no cognitive impairment. However, they have no ability to move anything beyond their eyes. You can designate that should you end up in that state what you want medical professionals to do.

None of these things are pleasant to think about, of course. However, by codifying your wishes, you take the burden off of your loved ones of determining what, if any, measures should be taken to keep you alive. It also prevents the case from ending up in a court with a judge who doesn't know you making the decisions. Your California estate planning attorney can help you draft an advanced health care directive as part of your overall estate plan.

Source: Fontana Herald News, "One very important part of an estate plan is a healthcare directive," Samuel Ledwitz, April 27, 2017

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