An advanced health care directive (AHCD) in California is generally necessary in case you are incapacitated and cannot make your own medical decisions. An AHCD names an agent with a power of attorney for medical decisions who is entrusted to follow the instructions in the directive, and can instruct doctors to carry out your wishes.

In most instances, medical personnel cannot take extreme measures such as removing life support without and AHCD, but a recent legal case reached a different conclusion based on the spousal relationship.

No AHCD, But Spouse Had Legal Right to Remove Life Support

A woman’s husband in Los Angeles had been in a vegetative state for over a year, but did not have an AHCD prepared. Normally, this would mean that doctors could not remove any life support measures keeping him alive. His spouse requested this anyway, and his family brought a lawsuit to stop her claiming that she had no legal basis and it was against his religious beliefs.

The court found that as his spouse, she did have legal authority to make end of life decisions on his behalf, even without an AHCD. The facts that were influential to the decision was that the spouse of the incapacitated had discussed the issue before, and he had made his intentions clear that he did not want extreme life support measures.

Further, the doctor stated that there was no chance of recovery, with limited brain function. The judge said that his wife as surrogate had fully complied with California’s Health Care Decisions law, and that she did have legal rights to make the decision. This case further strengthens the rights of spouses to intervene on each other’s behalf, based solely on the relationship.

You Still Need an AHCD

Despite this ruling, it would not be wise to rely on it and ignore the need to have a written directive that details your health care preferences. You can name your spouse or any other family member as agent, and specify exactly what you want in terms of medical care. This removes any uncertainty and allows doctors to act without need for court interference or long delays.

If you don’t have an AHCD now is the time to prepare one. It only takes a short amount of time for your attorney to go through the choices in the directive and draft the power of attorney. Please contact Andrea Shoup so we can help you take this essential estate planning step.