Advance Health Care Directives
An advance health care directive is a document that authorizes an agent to make health care decisions for the principal, the one who creates the document.
The advance health care directive takes effect only when the principal can no longer make decisions for herself.
Unless the principal says otherwise, the agent has no authority as long as the principal can give informed consent to a particular medical or health care decision.
Every Adult Should Execute An Advance Health Care Directive
Health care planning is not only for the elderly.
If a person, 18 years of age or older, becomes incapacitated without a properly executed advance health care directive, loved ones may have to petition the court for a conservatorship to obtain authority to make critical health care decisions for them.
Advantages Of An Advance Health Care Directive
- Only an advance health care directive enables you to choose the person who will make important medical decisions for you, should you be unable to.
- An advance health care directive may help avoid the requirement of a conservatorship – saving you and your family money and angst while protecting your privacy.
- An advance health care directive dictates your wishes for your care, thus easing the burden on your loved ones.
The agent has a duty:
- To act consistently with the principal’s desires as expressed in the advance health care directive
- To act consistently with the principal’s desires as otherwise made known to the agent at any time
- To act in the principal’s best interests
Regarding health care for the principal, the agent can:
- Grant consent
- Refuse consent
- Withdraw consent
If the principal grants the agent full powers, upon the principal’s incapacity, the agent steps into the principal’s shoes to authorize any care, treatment, service or procedure to maintain, diagnose or treat the principal’s physical or mental condition – including postmortem decisions.
The agent has the right to receive information about the principal’s medical conditions from physicians, therapists, dentists and other treating health care providers.
The agent is authorized to review the principal’s medical records and consent to their disclosure.
Characteristics Of A Good Agent
Selecting an agent under the advance health care directive is the most important decision the principal will make.
The agent must have:
- Willingness to carry out the principal’s wishes
- Intellectual and emotional strength and dependability
- Common sense in making discretionary decisions
- The agent must have the capacity sufficient to execute a contract and must be an adult
Usual Choices For An Agent
- Principal’s spouse or domestic partner
- Principal’s adult child
- Principal’s other relative or close friend
- A private professional fiduciary
Other Considerations In Choosing An Agent
- Agent’s health and life expectancy
- Agent’s decision-making ability
- Agent’s diplomacy in dealing with the principal’s family and loved ones
- The principal should name one or more successor agents
- The principal should discuss their wishes with individuals they have designated as agents
In the advance health care directive, the principal can grant broad powers to the agent to be used after the Principal’s death.
Postmortem powers that may be conferred:
- Authorize an autopsy
- Donate all or part of the principal’s body for transplant, education or research
- Direct whether the body should be buried, and, if so, where
- Direct whether the body should be cremated
- Direct whether there should be a memorial service