As a Santa Barbara will and estates attorney, I'm often asked, “How does a Healthcare Directive or Living Will work in California?”
Essentially, an Advance Healthcare Directive, sometimes referred to as a Living Will in California, is a legal document that spells out your wishes for healthcare if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to speak for yourself. This document also allows you to legally appoint someone you trust to make such decisions on your behalf. Your agent will be given broad authority to communicate with doctors and manage your care, including:
- Whether to continue life support or other life-saving measures such as feeding tubes or artificial breathing devices
- Deciding when to withhold treatment
- Managing pain-relieving options
- Making decisions about organ donation
Because of the serious nature of this job, it's important to put a significant amount of thought into the candidate who you will ultimately appoint to act as your healthcare agent in a medical emergency.
I generally recommend that my Santa Barbara estate planning clients choose someone over the age of 18, who is reliable and readily available should a healthcare crisis occur.
This person should also be emotionally capable of carrying out your wishes. Keep in mind that stopping treatment or “pulling the plug,” for example, is not an easy choice to make, so you'll want to choose an agent who you believe will honor your wishes regardless of their personal feelings.
I also recommend adding two to three alternative agents in the event that the primary agent is unable or unwilling to make the critical decisions you want made.
One final key point to consider when choosing your agent is that the person should actually want to have this responsibility. There are people who do not feel comfortable making these important decisions – even for their own spouse. It is critical to have a conversation with whomever you choose to ensure that they can and will be able to make the decisions that you want them to make.
Setting up a Healthcare Directive that truly protects your wishes in the event of your incapacity starts by meeting with an experienced estate planning lawyer here in Santa Barbara. If you'd like help getting started, we invite you to contact our Santa Barbara will and estates attorneys at (805) 946-1550 and ask to schedule a consultation.