Why you need a California advance care directive

Planning ahead with an advance care directive will ensure that you get the medical treatment you desire and deserve in the event of illness or incapacity.

People are living longer than ever before. According to data compiled by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the life span of the average American is 78.7 years, several years longer than it was just a generation ago. Now it isn't unheard of for people to live upwards of 100 years. Not only are we living longer, but we are maintaining active lifestyles longer, as well.

However, as our bodies age, we can develop more medical problems. Arthritis, heart disease, lung disease, cancer and other conditions are common among the elderly. Once we reach a certain level of physical maturity, we become more susceptible to serious injuries if we are involved in a fall, car accident or other mishap. Knowing that we aren't invincible, many of us have taken the important step of drafting a comprehensive estate plan that includes provisions on how our assets should be distributed to our loved ones after we die.

A key component of every estate plan - and one that is often forgotten, particularly if a boilerplate will form or "do it yourself" package has been used instead of an experienced estate planning attorney - is an advance health care directive.

What is an advance health care directive?

The term "advance health care directive" is unfamiliar to many people. These documents have often been referred to in the past as "living wills." Yes, an advance health care directive can serve the important purpose of educating your loved ones and medical care providers about the type of life-saving care you'd prefer in the event of an emergency (such as "do not resuscitate" orders), but, contrary to popular belief, it can do other things, too.

Care directives can be very narrow in scope, detailing that all a person's care is to be provided at a particular hospital or facility, or under the supervision of a named primary physician. They can dictate that certain steps be taken in the event of incapacity (such as attempting CPR if a person stops breathing or using a defibrillator to restore a normal heart rhythm) and forbid others (such as putting the patient on a ventilator or using artificial nutrition supplementation in the event of brain death).

Directives can also establish which - if any - family members or friends have the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient. For example, it may be that you want medical treatment decisions made by your older, more responsible son instead of your lovable but less organized daughter. You can easily structure an advance care directive to reflect your wishes.

What about the authority to use my accounts to pay my medical bills?

Another important document that goes hand-in-hand with an advance health care directive is a "durable power of attorney for finances." While the advance care directive gives someone the authority to make decisions about your medical care, a durable power of attorney for finances gives the person you choose the authority to access your funds to pay for medical care, even if that person isn't named on your back accounts. A good estate plan should include both of these documents.

Advance health care directives are an important part of your well-rounded California estate plan. To learn more about these vital legal tools, and how they can be used to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event of your illness or incapacity, consult a skilled estate planning attorney like Fullerton's Barbara J. Dibble.

Keywords: estate planning, will, trust, advance health care directive, durable powers of attorney for finances