An effective estate plan for many California families includes creating a durable power of attorney for health care directive. It appears, however, that two-thirds of individuals across the nation fail to do so. Generally referred to as a living will, this important document gives a named agent the power to make medical decisions on behalf of the document’s creator and signer in the event of illness or incapacitation. 

As reported by Forbes magazine, a 2017 study revealed that only one-third of the American adults surveyed had a health care directive. The individuals surveyed included both healthy adults and patients with chronic illnesses. Specifying a trusted agent through a health care directive may provide a sense of additional comfort. A trusted individual will be available to ensure that medical care proceeds in a manner aligned with the document creator’s wishes. 

Without an agent, however, physicians may ask an individual’s spouse, adult children or caretaker how to proceed with end-of-life care or other medical issues. These individuals, however, may make medical decisions based on the advice of a physician without first obtaining a second opinion. He or she might also approve of medical treatment based on his or her own beliefs instead of the incapacitated individual’s wishes. 

Ways a health care directive provides legal protection 

An individual who becomes incapacitated or unable to make medical decisions based on his or her own cognizance may benefit from creating a health care directive. Preparing one ahead of time helps the designated agent to make informed decisions regarding: 

  • Comfort care including relief from pain 
  • End-of-life procedures and hospice care 
  • Life-threatening and life-sustaining treatments 

The National Institute on Aging provides more information on planning for an agent to make important health care decisions.