You may believe you’re not ready to put an estate plan in place to designate who will receive your assets when you’re gone. However, all adults, regardless of age, should have an advance directive for their medical care in case they become seriously injured or ill and are unable to speak for themselves.
In California, this is called an Advance Health Care Directive. In it, you can detail your wishes regarding things like what kind of life-sustaining measures you want under various circumstances. For example, if you would never regain consciousness, would you want to be kept alive via artificial respiration?
What a directive can accomplish
Certainly, none of this is pleasant to think about. However, it can save your family from having to make excruciating decisions if you were to be involved in a serious accident.
Your advance directive also allows you to designate whether you want your organs and other parts of your body donated for transplant or medical study when you pass away. This allows you to provide more detail than simply listing yourself as an organ donor on your driver’s license. In some cases, as seen with actress Anne Heche earlier this year, a person needs to be kept alive until recipients are found so that their organs are still viable.
Choosing a health care agent
Generally, when people put an Advance Health Care Directive in place, they name a health care agent in a power of attorney (POA) document. You can give your agent permission to get information about your condition that would otherwise have to be kept confidential.
When there’s an advance directive, the health care agent is responsible for helping ensure that the person’s wishes are followed. It’s important to talk with the person you choose to make sure they’re willing and able to take on this responsibility if required and that they feel comfortable following your advance directive.
Once you have your advance directive and POA for your health care agent set up, you should give a copy to your health care provider and to your health care agent so they’re readily available if they’re ever needed. Of course, your wishes and your choice of agent may change over the years. You can always amend these documents. Having legal guidance along the way is strongly advised.