More people than ever are interested in health care directives, and physicians are seeing the importance of having legal documents in place for their patients and even themselves. Only about half of people have discussed their preferences for end-of-life care with loved ones, and even fewer have put those wishes into a legal document – medical professionals see the toll this takes on families making “life or death” decisions every day.

During this unpredictable time, it’s impossible to know how hospitals will adapt. Protocols for end-of-life care may change at any time as we’ve seen in both Italy and Spain. Without an advanced directive in place, your family may have no choice in the matter at all.

An advanced health care directive is an integral part of any estate plan. It is a legal document in which an individual may nominate a person or persons to act on his or her behalf in making health care decisions in the event that he or she becomes incapable of making them. This is not the same as a Springing Power of Attorney, which grants an individual the authority to act on behalf of another in financial matters during a period of incapacity.

An advance health care directive lets you give specific instructions about any aspect of your health care. Choices are provided for you to express your wishes regarding life support, pain relief and end-of-life care. It also allows an individual to consider different types of organ donation and leave burial or cremation instructions. Most importantly, you have the right to revoke or replace it at any time while you are capacitated.

Without a health care directive, family members must make health care decisions for an incapacitated individual without knowing his or her explicit wishes. In the event family members disagree on medical decisions, they must petition the probate court for a conservator to be appointed. This can be time-consuming, costly, and detrimental to family relations.

In planning your estate, be sure to discuss advanced directives with your attorney. After your directive is signed and notarized, consider sharing your wishes with your nominated agents as well as sending a PDF copy to your primary care physician. Many physicians will make your directive a part of your medical record so other doctors and emergency room personnel may access in a timely manner.

Considering the circumstances of your own incapacitation can be difficult, but I always remind my clients of the burden they are reliving from their families by being proactive in planning their estate. Leave your legacy, your way.

Happy planning!


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.