Advance Health Care Directive

An Advance Health Care Directive (“AHCD”) allows you to legally specify either or both of two important things: First, you may name a person who will have legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself. This person is known as your “agent.” Unless you explicitly limit your agent’s authority, it is quite broad. Next, you may specify your wishes with regard to what type of medical treatment you would wish to receive and end-of-life decisions. Your wishes may be expressed in as much detail as you desire.

The Directive has other optional sections, concerning organ and tissue donation, designation of a primary care physician and consent to disclosure of medical information. It may be effective immediately, for a specified period of time (say during a hospital stay) or upon your incapacity (often defined as when your primary physician determines that you are unable to make your own health care decisions).

The California Medical Association recommends that you discuss you choices with your agent (and named successor agents), physicians and family. Your agents and physicians should have a copy of your AHCD. Ideally, your family will be told who you have chosen to speak for you and where a copy can be found. In California, you have the option of registering a copy with the Secretary of State through their website,, so that medical personnel can access your wishes and find out who you would want to speak on your behalf.