As we get older, we may lose our ability to make important health care decisions. This section talks about common situations.
Click on a topic to learn more:
- Can I Make My Own Medical Decisions?
- Can I Ask Someone to Make Decisions for Me If I Am No Longer Able To?
- Is My Old Power of Attorney for Health Care Still Valid?
- Where Can I Get a Form for an Advanced Health Care Directive?
- How Do I Fill Out an Advanced Health Care Directive?
- What If I Don't Have Anyone to Serve as My Agent?
- Can the Court Help Me Make Health Care Decisions for a Very Sick Relative If There Is No Advance Directive?
- What If the Sick Person Needs Help for a Long Time?
- Can I Ask to Have a Patient’s Life Support Ended?
CAN I MAKE MY OWN MEDICAL DECISIONS?
Yes. As long as you can act “with capacity” you can make your own medical decisions. Capacity means you understand the proposed health care, its benefits, risks, and alternatives. It also means that you can tell others what you want.
For more information read Probate Code Section 4609 .
CAN I ASK SOMEONE TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR ME IF I AM NO LONGER ABLE TO?
Yes, you can. But, you don’t have to. You can have someone (called your agent or attorneys-in-fact) make medical decisions for you. Your agent should be someone you trust. To do this, you write the agent’s name in a document called an Advanced Health Care Directive. (It used to be called a power of attorney for health care.)
It is usually a pre-printed form that lets you appoint an agent and give instructions about the type of health care you would want in different situations. You can also use this document to say if you want to donate your organs.
IS MY OLD POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTH CARE STILL VALID?
Maybe. If your power of attorney for health care was valid before the law changed, it is still valid now. But some powers of attorney for health care made before January 1, 1992 have expired.
If you signed a power of attorney for health care before January 1, 1992, review it to be sure it is still valid and it still expresses your wishes. Even if you use a form printed before the new law, it may still be valid.
WHERE CAN I GET A FORM FOR AN ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE?
You can download the form from this site: Probate Code at Section 4701 . Or, you can get the form from a lawyer, a bookstore or stationery store (Check the Yellow Pages under Legal Documents).
HOW DO I FILL OUT AN ADVANCED HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE?
You do not need a lawyer, but you may want one. You must make many important decisions when you fill out the form. You will:
- Name agents who will follow your wishes and be willing and available to serve.
- Leave copies of your directive for your agent, doctor and hospital.
- Decide if you want to prolong your life if you are terminally ill. You can talk to your doctor about possible situations you may face.
You must have witnesses sign the document. There are certain people who cannot be your witness. If you live in a nursing home, the county ombudsman must review the document with you before you sign it.
WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE ANYONE TO SERVE AS MY AGENT?
You can still make a health care directive. Just fill out the part of the directive that says what your wishes are.
You can also appoint someone as a “surrogate” to make decisions for you when you are in a hospital or other medical institution, even if you haven’t named an agent.
CAN THE COURT HELP ME MAKE HEALTH CARE DECISIONS FOR A VERY SICK RELATIVE IF THERE IS NO ADVANCE DIRECTIVE?
Yes. If a relative has to go to the hospital for an emergency medical procedure and cannot give consent, you can ask the Court for permission under Probate Code Section 3200 to give consent for your relative.
If your relative does not agree, s/he can file a petition under this same section to protect his or her right to make his or her own medical decisions. If your relative does not have a lawyer, the Court will appoint one for the hearing.
WHAT IF THE SICK PERSON NEEDS HELP FOR A LONG TIME?
You can go to Court and ask to establish a conservatorship. A conservatorship allows you to have the power to make medical decisions, if the sick person cannot make medical decisions on his/her own.
For more on conservatorships, see the conservatorship page at this website.
CAN I ASK TO HAVE A PATIENT’S LIFE SUPPORT ENDED?
California law says you can tell a health care provider to terminate life support to a terminally ill person if that person left those instructions in a health care directive, power of attorney, or other communication to a health care provider.
If a terminally ill person did not leave instructions, you can go to Court and ask for an order, under a conservatorship, to end life support.