When the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States, some people became ill so quickly that they didn’t have time to plan for their future care needs before being hospitalized. The outbreak has been a painful reminder that you can’t wait until the last minute when it comes to critical health care decisions. A medical crisis or accident can happen to anyone, and it’s vital to have the right measures in place for your care. For Californians, an Advance Health Care Directive provides a way for a patient to leave clear instructions to their physicians and designate a medical decision-maker. If you haven’t taken the time to prepare this essential estate planning document, you will need to know: What will happen if I don’t have an Advance Health Care Directive?
What is an Advance Health Care Directive?
A California Advance Health Care Directive, sometimes called an advance directive or power of attorney for health care, is a legal device that allows you to protect your health if you cannot make decisions due to being an accident or suffering from a significant illness.
This instrument allows you to name the person you would want to make decisions on your behalf in you were to become incapacitated. The directive also provides a way for you to give your medical treatment providers specific instructions about your care. If, for instance, you don’t want a certain kind of intervention, you can include that information in your Advance Health Care Directive for your medical treatment team. Your medical decision-maker will be there to help ensure that your directions are followed and to make any other necessary decisions on your behalf.
What Can Happen if You Don’t Have an Advance Health Care Directive?
If you have not taken the time to prepare an Advance Health Care Directive, you are not alone. According to a survey by AARP, less than 30% of people have an advance directive. If you don’t have one and are unable to make decisions about your medical care, you will receive medical treatment. However, you will have less control over your treatment decisions without this device.
If you are involved in a serious accident that renders you unconscious, or you become ill to the point of losing your mental capacity to make medical and care decisions, someone else is going to do it for you. The question of who that person will be becomes much more limited without an Advance Health Care Directive. If you are married, your spouse may be the presumed decision-maker about your care. However, that does not mean that a family member won’t challenge their authority. There have been cases when relatives have alleged that the incapacitated person did not want their spouse to make treatment decisions on their behalf. Someone with this concern could end up taking your husband or wife to court and having a contested hearing to overcome the spousal presumption.
If you are unmarried, The matter could end up in a legal conservatorship case. A California probate court would have to determine who should have conservatorship of the person over your personal care and medical treatment decisions. If you have not made arrangements for someone to make financial decisions on your behalf, the court would also have to appoint a conservator of the estate to safeguard and manage your finances during your incapacity.
Contact a California Estate Planning Attorney
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are experienced California estate planning attorneys who can help you prepare an Advance Health Care Directive and other critical documents you will need for your estate plan. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.