Planning for the end of your life or potential incapacitation may not be one of the most enticing activities in the world, but it is an important endeavor. Without planning, important decisions about your health and property could end up in the hands of the wrong people. And in the absence of an appropriate estate plan, a California probate court decides who gets to make decisions on your behalf.
Durable Power of Attorney And Living Will for Medical Decisions
That’s why it’s crucial to meet with an estate planning attorney in Los Angeles and create the appropriate living wills and health care power of attorney. These two primary documents allow you to set your wishes for medical care to ensure that important decisions are in the hands of someone you can trust.
The Most Important Health Care Documents
Two primary documents help you make known your wishes for medical care: a durable healthcare power of attorney and a living will. In some states, these two documents are combined to create what is known as an advanced directive.
Powers of Attorney for Health Care
When creating a health care power of attorney, you’ll appoint a trusted person to be your attorney-in-fact for healthcare. This person is often also called a health care agent, health care proxy, or surrogate. He or she makes health care decisions on your behalf and ensure that your medical providers give the kind of care you would want.
A written statement detailing the type of care you do or do not want if you become incapacitated is known as a living will. This is not the same thing as a typical will that designates who gets certain assets or pieces of property. A living will contain as much or as little as you’d like.
When Do Health Care Documents Kick In?
When your doctor determines that you lack the ability to make decisions for yourself, your healthcare documents take effect. A doctor makes this determination if you are unable to understand the nature and consequences of available choices.
For example, if you are suffering from severe dementia, you may not be able to make sound decisions for yourself. Your doctor may also decide that you lack the capacity to make health care decisions if you are unable to communicate your wishes orally, in writing, or through gestures.
There are times when it is clear that a patient lacks the appropriate capacity to make decisions. A major incident, like a stroke, leaves no question. In these cases, your health care directives take effect immediately. In other cases, there may be some question as to your capacity. If there is uncertainty about your ability to understand the consequences of your choices or you are unable to communicate your wishes, your doctor can make the call.
Even if you have directives that give an agent the ability to manage your healthcare, that person cannot override your wishes. So long as you have the ability to communicate, and a doctor believes you have the capacity to understand the situation, your decisions are the only ones that matter. Your healthcare agent must also always act in your best interest and attempt to follow any directions you’ve left behind.
Do Healthcare Documents End?
Once you create a living will and appoint a healthcare power of attorney, your directives do not expire or go away on your own. You can make changes at any time, so long as you still have the appropriate capacity to do so. There are, however, a few instances that can impact your directives.
You Revoke Them
Just like you can make changes to your healthcare directives at any time, you can also wholly revoke them. In some cases, you may want to make enough changes that the best option is to revoke them and start over.
If you are receiving some kind of medical treatment, it’s imperative that you let your providers know if you want to make changes to your directives, so there isn’t any confusion.
Your Directives Are Invalidated
If your healthcare decisions are being disputed, a court could step in. While a courtroom isn’t the best place to make these kinds of decisions, situations do arise that require legal involvement. If your directives were not properly completed, for example, there could be issues later on. This helps exemplify why working with a skilled Los Angeles estate planning attorney is so essential.
Your directives could also be challenged if someone doubts you had the appropriate mental capacity to create healthcare documents.
Your Agent Is Revoked
If someone, including doctors, believes that your agent is not acting in your best interest, they can request the court to do an investigation. If the court finds your agent is working against your interests, your alternative takes over. In the case there is no alternative, the court decides who steps in and becomes your next agent.
After A Divorce
While getting a divorce will not automatically change your directives, there are a few states that will remove your former spouse’s authority. Since it’s common for significant life changes, like a divorce, to impact your estate plan, it’s vital to make the necessary changes as soon as possible.
After Your Death
Most of your healthcare directives are no longer relevant after your death. In some states, your agent still oversees what happens to your body, organ donation, autopsy, and more. Everything regarding your estate will be dealt with by other parts of your estate plan.
Who Should I Choose?
Because your healthcare agent will make important decisions about your care, you want to pick someone who you trust immensely. This intimate friend or relative should know you and your wishes.
Make sure to talk to this person before naming him or her as your agent. This discussion will let you know if that person is up for the task. Choosing someone who is not prepared for the responsibility could lead to disputes, or even revocation of your agent and the court stepping in anyway..
At the end of the day, someone you know and trust will always give you more peace of mind rather than allowing the court to select a stranger.
To learn more about advance directive, health care documents, and estate planning, ask our living trust attorney in Orange County and Los Angeles.