An Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) is a legal document which enables California residents to authorize a friend or relative to make health care decisions and personal care decisions on their behalf in the event that they are unable to make those decisions themselves.

            The designated person to make health care decisions for the “principal” is the “agent”. An AHCD authorizes the agent to make health care decisions and may also include individual health care instructions. The agent may also have the authority to make decisions relating to the personal care of the principal, including determining where the principal will live, providing meals, hiring household employees, providing transportation, handling mail, and arranging recreation and entertainment.

An AHCD can take effect immediately or when the principal becomes legally incapacitated (a “springing power”). Most AHCDs are drafted to take immediate effect, but as long as the principal is able to give informed consent, the agent is not authorized to make health care decisions unless otherwise specified. An AHCD will exist for an indefinite period of time unless the principal specifically limits its duration in the document.

The AHCD should effectively avoid the need for a conservatorship of the person if the principal is incapacitated and does not abject to the agent’s actions. However, if a principal of apparently impaired capacity objects to the agent’s actions, it may be necessary to petition for conservatorship and an order determining the principal’s capacity.

The law recognizes that an adult has the fundamental right to control the decision to have life-sustaining treatment withheld or withdrawn. An AHCD can provide that the agent is authorized to withhold artificial life support if the principal is in an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state. An AHCD cannot authorize consent to commitment to a mental health treatment facility, convulsive treatment, psychosurgery, sterilization, or abortion, and it cannot be used to authorize mercy killing, assisted suicide, or euthanasia.

An agent has the same rights as the patient to request, receive, examine, copy, and consent to the disclosure of medical or any other health care information. It is important to note that the agent will not be responsible for the principals’ medical bills unless that person would otherwise be responsible for the principal’s debts.

The law for AHCDs became effective on July 1, 2000. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care executed on a printed form that was valid under prior law remains valid, regardless of whether execution occurred before, on, or after July 1, 2000. A written AHCD or similar instrument executed in another state or jurisdiction is valid and enforceable in California to the same extent as an AHCD validly executed in California.

The Secretary of State has a registry system through which a person who has executed a written AHCD may register in a central information center, information regarding the AHCD, making that information available upon request to any health care provider, the public guardian, or other person authorized by the registrant. A copy of a written AHCD has the same effect as the original.

An AHCD is a valuable tool in the event of incapacitation. If you do not yet have an AHCD, today would be a great time to take the necessary steps to get your Advance Health Care Directive in place. Call today to discuss you AHCD needs!

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