One of the most important documents in your California estate plan will be your advance health care directive. In this document, you can detail your wishes for things like what kind of life-prolonging measures you do and don’t want to be taken under various circumstances. For example, some people don’t want to be kept alive if they have no brain functionality or if they’re going to be completely paralyzed (a condition called locked-in syndrome).
You can also detail your wishes for how organs, tissue and other body parts can be used. This can help with implementing your end-of-life wishes. For example, when actress Anne Heche was severely injured in a car crash last year, she was kept on life support until recipients could be found for her organs according to her previously stated wishes.
Along with developing an advance health care directive, it’s important to designate a health care agent and give them power of attorney to advocate for your wishes if you’re unable to speak for yourself.
What qualities should an agent have?
This is often a spouse or close family member, but you can choose any adult you trust. Ideally, you should name someone who:
- Will remain calm in a trying situation
- Is not afraid to stand up to family and medical professionals if necessary, while still be respectful
- Understands your wishes and has no moral or ethical qualms about advocating for them
- Can be relied on to be there when needed
- Has good judgment
Even if you’re married and want your spouse to be your health care agent, it’s wise to put that in writing rather than assume they’ll be able to advocate for you. This will give them the authority they need to speak for you if other family members disagree with them.
Of course, your spouse could be in the same or worse condition than you if you’re in an accident together. That’s one reason it’s important to name an alternate agent, who should have the same qualities as your first choice.
Even if you’re not ready to put a will, trust or other estate planning documents in place that will take effect after your death, having an advance health care directive and choosing the right agent will save your family from having to make painful decisions. You can learn more about advance health care directives and other estate planning tools that are right for you.