Your Health: Advance directive allows just-in-case decisions
by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.
Feb 15, 2013 | 1453 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print


None of us would ever want to be incapacitated to the extent that we could not make decisions affecting our well-being. Unfortunately, for some of us, that day may come.

For most individuals, that time comes later in life, but for others it happens much too early.

What sort of medical situations could cause such a scenario? You could be incapacitated by accident or illness, such a serious head injury, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, meningitis or many other illnesses, diseases, and injuries.

To help in these situations, California has established an Advance Health Care Directive — sometimes referred to as a “living will” — that instructs physicians as to your wishes for medical treatment if you were to be incapacitated and unable to make decisions on your own.

Under California law, this form allows you to name an agent, granting that person power of attorney, to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Your agent should be a trusted person, either a family member or a friend, who has your best interests at heart, understands your wishes and will act accordingly. Two alternates may also be named.

The directive must be dated and executed in the presence of, and then signed by, two witnesses or a notary. A witness cannot be your physician, any of his or her employees or any employee of a care facility. At least one of the witnesses cannot be related to you by blood, marriage or adoption and must not be entitled to any part of your estate upon your death.

The most important function of the directive is to permit health care providers to either prolong or not prolong your life and to keep you pain free according to your wishes. You may also state your desire for organ donation, if you so choose.

It is important to make such decisions when you are of healthy mind and body. Don’t put your loved ones in the difficult position of guessing what type of care you would want in an end-of-life event.

All adults need advance directives. Talk to your physician if you have any questions.

You can download a directive form at

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website,, or email him at Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.

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