A living will is an important document that explains how your medical affairs must be handled should you ever be unable to make your own decisions. For that reason, California state law refers to living wills as advanced healthcare directives.
A living will is different from a traditional will. A traditional will dictates how your assets will be disbursed upon your death and may also name a guardian if you die before your children are of legal age. A living will, on the other hand, takes effect under the specific condition that you are alive but incapacitated and can no longer make decisions on your own behalf. A living will has two main components, which serve distinct, important purposes:
- A living will allows you to give another person power of attorney
- A living will sets the terms regarding the treatment you may, or may not, receive will incapacitated
Assigning Power of Attorney
A living will allows you to name an individual—legally termed an “agent”—to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. You may also name a secondary agent, or back-up agent, in case your initial pick isn’t available.
However, there are some restrictions about who can be an agent. You cannot, for instance, choose a healthcare provider, an employee of the hospital or assisted living facility, or the healthcare facility’s owner or operator to be your agent. California law sets these restrictions to ensure that an agent will make medical decisions in your best interest rather than a hospital or insurance company’s.
Situations When You Need a Living Will
You likely want an advanced healthcare directive in any one or more of the following circumstances:
- You suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or another cognitive disability which affects your decision-making abilities
- You get into an accident and end up paralyzed or in a coma
- You have been on life support for an extended period of time with little chance of recovery
Without a living will, your loved ones may be forced to make difficult decisions. An advanced healthcare directive not only conveys your wishes, but it enables your agent to act with certainty, knowing they are doing exactly what you would want them to do.
Choosing an Agent
If you fail to name an agent, your medical decisions could be left to distant relatives, doctors, or even a judge.
Every state has its own requirements for who can and cannot be an agent. Your most important consideration should be whether your intended agent, and secondary agent, can be trusted to act in your best interest and execute your wishes. They don’t need to be a California resident, but they should be close enough to you—geographically and otherwise—to be present when they’re needed.
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