In California, Advance Health Care Directives are the legally recognized format for “living wills.” An Advance Health Care Directive enables individuals to make sure that their health care wishes are known in advance and considered if for any reason they are unable to speak for themselves. An advance directive also allows a patient to appoint a health care “agent” who will have legal authority to make health care decisions in the event that patient is incapacitated, or immediately upon appointment if the patient expressly grants such authority.
For more information, see CMA’s Advance Health Care Directive kits. The kits, available in English and Spanish, include legal forms and wallet identification cards, and answer many of the most frequently asked questions about these issues.
Frequently Asked Questions About Advance Directives
The following are answers to commonly asked questions about Advance Health Care Directives.
What is an Advance Health Care Directive?
An Advance Health Care Directive is the best way to make sure that your health care wishes are known and considered if for any reason you are unable to speak for yourself. Completing a form called an “Advance Health Care Directive” allows you, under California law, to do a number of things:
First, you may appoint another person to be your health care “agent.” This person (who may also be known as your “attorney-in-fact”) will have legal authority to make decisions about your medical care if you become unable to make these decisions for yourself. Although you are not required to appoint a health care agent, CMA recommends that you do so. Appointing a particular person as your health care agent ensures there will be someone you trust to actively participate in the decisions surrounding your health care.
Second, you may write down your health care wishes in the Advance Health Care Directive form, for example, a desire not to receive treatment that only prolongs the dying process if you are seriously ill. Your doctor and your agent must follow your lawful instructions within the limits of generally accepted health care standards. Third, an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to express your wishes about organ and tissue donation.
Is an Advance Health Care Directive different from a “living will”?
The Advance Health Care Directive is now the legally recognized format for a living will in California. It replaces the Natural Death Act Declaration. The Advance Health Care Directive allows you to do more than the traditional living will, which only states your desire not to receive life-sustaining treatment if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to state your wishes about refusing or accepting life-sustaining treatment in any situation.
Unlike a living will, an Advance Health Care Directive also can be used to state your desires about your health care in any situation in which you are unable to make your own decisions, not just when you are in a coma or are terminally ill. In addition, an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to appoint someone you trust to speak for you when you are incapacitated.
You do not need a separate living will if you have already stated your wishes about life-sustaining treatment in an Advance Health Care Directive. The Advance Health Care Directive form in CMA’s Advance Health Care Directive Kit includes an optional living will statement that you can select if it reflects your desires.
Is an Advance Health Care Directive different from a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care”?
The Advance Health Care Directive has replaced the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (or “DPAHC”) as the legally recognized document for appointing a health care agent in California. The Advance Health Care Directive allows you to do more than a DPAHC. An Advance Health Care Directive permits you not only to appoint an agent, but to give instructions about your own health care. You can now do either or both of these things in the same document.
Additional questions, answers and kits –
If you haven’t already, I urge you to complete your directive. Your end of life choices will be honored and upheld. You have the opportunity to add additional wishes regarding your healthcare. Choose your agent(s) wisely. That person will uphold your hopes in the event you are incapacitated for any reason, short term, or long term. Your written word really is your living will.
You can also register your Directive with the Advance Health Care Directive Registry at:
Please keep a hard copy in a safe place if you haven’t used the registry.
You may also want to consider:
Donate Life California
“Donate Life California saves lives by inspiring people to sign up with the state organ, eye and tissue donor registry”. – See more at: http://donatelifecalifornia.org/
“One person can save eight lives and enhance 50 others through organ and tissue donation”.