Palm Springs Law Blog

Friday, March 29, 2024

From Coachella to Retirement: Protecting Your Wishes With a Palm Springs Healthcare Proxy

Though they are often lumped in with the things handled in an estate plan, you do not need an estate plan to prepare healthcare proxies. Where an estate plan addresses how you want your financial affairs handled after your death, a healthcare proxy (also known as an advance healthcare directive) provides instructions for medical providers while you are still alive.

Regardless of your age or current well-being, advance healthcare directives help your family and doctors provide you with the medical care you would prefer; moreover, they provide your loved ones with a sense of guidance, relieving them of the many pressures and conflicts that arise after a traumatic event.

The Purpose of Advance Healthcare Directives

In the state of California, advance healthcare directives serve several key purposes:

Appointing a Healthcare Agent

Advance healthcare directives include power of attorney, a grant of authority that gives your agent the power to make medical decisions on your behalf. That said, select your healthcare agent carefully, as doctors must act on their instructions.

Detailing When Power of Attorney is Applied

In addition to appointing an agent, your directives also explain when their grant of authority occurs. If you have dementia, for instance, your agent’s authority might become effective upon signing the document, but someone in good health might appoint an agent whose authority only takes effect upon incapacity. 

Some examples of incapacity include the following:

  • Unconsciousness

  • Coma

  • Dementia

  • Persistent vegetative state

  • End-of-life

Ultimately, when a doctor determines that you cannot make decisions regarding your medical care due to any of these conditions, they will look to your agent to decide for you. 

That said, your healthcare agent does not need to be the same person as your executor or financial agent; in fact, keeping your medical and financial decisions separate might make sense in some situations. You do not need to write a will or appoint a financial agent when you issue your healthcare directives; you can handle each part separately, depending on your needs.

Giving Instructions to Your Agent

You will likely choose an agent who understands your beliefs and values, given your trust in them to fulfill your wishes. Nevertheless, you can also provide instructions for specific situations that you may encounter while incapacitated, such as:

  • Whether to issue a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order

  • Whether to withhold life-extending nutrition, hydration, or respiration

  • Medical procedures you do not want to be performed on you

  • Whether you wish to be transferred home or to hospice at the end of life

  • How to handle a coma or other conditions you survive but will not recover from

You do not need to address every situation in your healthcare proxy, but your agent will use their judgment to decide on any issue not touched upon beforehand.

Directing Whether You Wish to Donate Organs and Tissues

Your advance directives can also state whether you wish to donate tissues and organs, and they can restrict the purposes of such a donation; for example, you can include your wish to donate for transplants but not research in your directive.

Identifying Your Primary Physician

Lastly, an advance healthcare directive can be used to identify the physician you wish to handle your care during incapacity. That physician will also help determine whether you are incapacitated altogether.

What happens after you prepare your proxy?

You must sign your proxy in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public; additionally, you should store a copy of your directives with other important records, such as your estate plan or financial documents. You should also give copies to your agent, doctor(s), and lawyer(s).

If any questions arise regarding who has the authority to make decisions on your behalf, your estate planning lawyer may need to enforce the order in court.

Protect Your Healthcare Wishes

You should discuss your wishes and instructions with your family and friends, and empowering them to put things into effect means preparing advance directives and appointing a healthcare agent who knows and understands them. Contact Heritage Legal, PC, an advance estate planning law firm in Palm Springs, CA, to discuss your healthcare wishes today.

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