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What is an advance directive?

If you are a Californian starting to think about the type of medical and/or end-of-life care you wish to receive, you may want to consider executing an advance directive that sets forth your wishes and desires. As the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization explains, advance directives can go by several other names as well, such as a living will, medical power of attorney, health care proxy, etc.

While technically you do not need the assistance of an attorney to draft your advance directive, consulting with one serves your best interests. Why? Because although advance directives are legal in all 50 states, laws vary from state to state as to what such a document must include in order to make it valid. In addition, even if you are a long-time California resident with no plans to move or travel to other states, your advance directive must contain the proper legal language, as well as sections expressing your personal medical desires and preferences, to make it valid in our state.

Basic advance directive provisions

One of the most important things you will do by means of your advance directive is to specify the person you want to make your medical decisions for you if and when you cannot make them for yourself, such as if you suffer an illness or injury that leaves you comatose, terminally ill, unable to speak, unable to reason clearly, etc. This person can be whomever you wish, such as a family member or a close friend, but it should not be one of your health care providers. In addition, you should specify an alternate person just in case your first choice person declines to take on this responsibility when the time comes or cannot do it due to his or her own incapacity or because (s)he predeceases you.

The other very important function your advance directive serves is to list the treatments, procedures, medical machinery and medications you do – and do not – want doctors to give you, even if such things may prolong your life. After signing your advance directive, make sure to keep the original in a safe place and give copies to your designated decision-maker and your doctor(s) so they can place them in your patient file(s).

This is general information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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