Advanced Health Care Directives

The “Living Will” is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life prolonging medical treatments.   It can also be referred to as an advance directive, health care directive, durable power of attorney for health care, or a physician’s directive.

For those in California, the typical legal document used today is the Advanced Health Care Directive (“AHCD”).  Starting in July 2000, the California Health Care Decisions Law took effect and authorized the use of the Advanced Health Care Directive, which consolidated previous advance directives and made it easier for individuals to make their preferences known through written and oral communications.  The AHCD replaced the Natural Death Act and is now recognized as the legal format for a living will in the state of California.

What is the Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD)?

The AHCD allows you to do either or both of the following two things to prepare yourself in the event that you become incapacitated:

1) Appoint a health care agent, who will have the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.

2) State your instructions for future health care decisions, in the event that you cannot speak for yourself.

The AHCD can also be used to appoint a conservator or guardian, make autopsy and funeral arrangements and/or make decisions regarding organ and tissue donation.

What is required to complete an AHCD?

An AHCD is valid if:

  1. It is completed by a competent person over age 18
  2. Includes the person’s name, signature and date
  3. Is acknowledged by a notary public or signed by two witnesses

Whom should I choose as a health care agent?

When choosing your health care agent, choose a person whom you trust, for example, a family member, spouse, parent or close friend.  Make sure that the person you choose is willing to assume the responsibility and fully understands your health care wishes.

What kinds of decisions can my health care agent make?

You can choose the power that you give your agent.  Some of the powers you can give include:

  • The right to choose the health care providers and institutions;
  • The right to discharge the health care provider
  • The right to refuse or consent to treatment;
  • The right to access medical records; and
  • The right to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment.
  • The right to permit or restrict organ donations,
  • The right to authorize an autopsy.
  • The right to direct the disposition of your remains.

What should I do with my completed AHCD form?

You should keep the original copy where your family or friends will be able to find it if it is needed.  You should also give a copy to your primary physician, your agent and any other health care facility that is providing you care.   You should also put a card or notation in your wallet or purse that states that you have an AHCD.  Some people also take a copy of their AHCD when they travel.

May I change or revoke my AHCD?

Yes. You can change or revoke your AHCD at any time.  To avoid possible confusion, you should notify your physician, your previous agent and anyone who has a copy of your AHCD of any changes or revocations.  Your AHCD remains valid forever unless you revoke it, execute a new AHCD, or specify a date on which you would like your AHCD to expire.

Are previous advance directives still valid?

If a completed advance directive was previously valid, it remains so unless you rescind it.   Any previous advance directive such as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Natural Death Act that was valid in California as of July 1, 2000 is still valid.

However, if you executed a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) before 1992, it may have expired.  If you have executed a DPAHC before 2000, when the California Health Care Decisions Law consolidated previous directives into the AHCD, you should check to see that the forms have not expired and still reflect your wishes.

What will happen if you lose the capacity to make a decision, but you do not have an AHCD?

If you lack the capacity to make decisions, the health care team will usually turn to your family or close friends.  If there is no dispute between your loved ones about what should happen, this is not a problem.  But if a dispute arises, like in the Terri Schaivo case, it could become a major problem.

For more information about Advanced Health Care Directives, contact our offices.


California Health Care Decisions Law

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