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Why you need a California Advance Health Care Directive

A thorough estate plan shouldn't just reflect your wishes for what happens after you die. It should also include directions to those caring for you if you become so ill or incapacitated that you can't speak for yourself.

That's why an advanced medical directive should be part of your estate plan and those of your loved ones. In our state, it's called a California Advance Health Care Directive. Sadly, only about 30 percent of Americans have such a document in place.

A health care directive lets people state the conditions under which they wouldn't want medical care to continue to prolong their life. For example, if they were brain dead and there was no chance of regaining any meaningful quality of life. It can also state that they want all life-saving and life-prolonging measures taken, regardless of their condition and prognosis.

When you complete a health care directive, you will designate someone (known as an agent or proxy) to have health care power of attorney authority for you. Your health care proxy should be someone whom you know and trust to carry out your wishes -- possibly against the objections of family members.

Physicians are not legally bound to carry out your health care directive. If a doctor has a conscientious objection to a patient's wishes, however, he or she has an obligation to transfer that person to another physician who will comply. It's best to discuss your wishes with your doctor and your designated health care proxy (and back-ups) to be sure that they feel comfortable carrying them out.

If your parents and other elderly loved ones don't have a health care directive in their estate plan or don't have an estate plan at all, talk to them about putting one in place. It can save families from having to make excruciating decisions for loved ones based on what they believe they would want. It can also prevent in-fighting at a time when family members need each other the most.

Don't wait until you think you're nearing the end of your life to draft a health care directive. The unexpected can happen at any age. You can always make changes to it if your wishes change as you get older and as medical advancements are made. An experienced California estate planning attorney can answer any questions you have and provide valuable guidance.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, "Do you need an advanced medical directive? Yes!," Doug Williams, April 25, 2018

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