Whether due to old age, progressive disease or a sudden injury, when an individual is no longer able to communicate his or her medical wishes, advance care planning helps provide loved ones and health care workers with crucial guidance.
If your estate plan does not include directives for end-of-life care, you are far from alone. The CDC reports that roughly 70% of Americans do not have a plan in place should they suffer a life-threatening illness or injury that leaves them incapacitated.
What advance care options are available?
In California, you may choose to establish either or both a living will and medical power of attorney.
Also known as an “advance medical directive,” a living will is a document that allows you to give explicit instructions about what types of end-of-life care you do or do not want to receive under life-threatening circumstances.
With a medical power of attorney, you may designate a health care proxy to make medical choices on your behalf.
What might a living will include?
A living will documents your preferences regarding life-sustaining procedures that may only serve to prolong your death should you become mentally or physically incapacitated.
While you may prefer that medical providers do everything possible to extend life, you may object to certain types of treatments, such as mechanical respiration, tube feeding or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
What is a medical power of attorney?
While a living will allows you to give specific instructions about specific circumstances, medical decisions are seldom straightforward. A medical power of attorney designates a family member, close friend or other trusted agent to make health care decisions on your behalf.
By default, your health care proxy’s authority becomes effective only after your primary physician determines that you are no longer able to make an informed decision about the risks of benefits of procedures. However, you may also choose to grant the agent authority immediately.
When the worst happens, an advance care plan established your health care preferences. In addition to providing health care staff with important guidance, having a plan in place may help spare loved ones the anguish of making a difficult decision on their own.