Celebrate 13th Annual Healthcare Decisions Day

Charles Stark Sonoma Lawyer

Though it may not be the most well-known event of the month, National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) on April 16, 2020 is important as a way to remind Californians of the importance of planning for the future. Sponsored by the Conversation Project, an initiative dedicated to raising awareness about tools for health care planning, NHDD specifically encourages the use of advance directives to communicate medical decision-making.

Generally, an advance directive is a document through which individuals can describe their wishes regarding health care in the event of incapacity. In California, there are two key sections of an Advance Health Care Directive.

 A Power of Attorney for Health Care, where the signer appoints an agent to make decisions regarding medical treatment, procedures, and other aspects of care; and,

  1. Individual Instructions, a statement of intentions regarding end-of-life care and pain relief which also goes by the term “living will.”

In addition, the California Advance Health Care Directive includes sections on the donation of organs and the designation of a primary care physician.

Charles D. Stark, a Sonoma County attorney who focuses on wills, trusts, and estate planning, applauded the objectives of NHDD. “I always advise my clients on the importance of executing an advance directive for health care, so it’s good to see that this event is also raising awareness. Many people don’t fully understand what could happen if they don’t have one.”

Mr. Stark was referring to the legal issues that can arise in the absence of a properly executed advance directive.

When a person is incapacitated and cannot make health care decisions, there is no one to act on his or her behalf. A family member must file a petition in court through a guardianship proceeding, requesting the judge to grant the authority to handle medical determinations.

Based upon Mr. Stark’s experience, “the guardianship process can be time-consuming, especially if family members are fighting or multiple people file competing petitions for guardianship. Days or weeks could pass before anyone has the power to make health care decisions for the incapacitated individual. Plus, there can be considerable legal costs and filing fees associated with guardianship proceedings.”

It is worth noting that California is one of a few US states that maintains an Advance Directive Registry.

By filing a copy, physicians and loved ones can locate it in the future if the principal becomes incapacitated. The agent will have official authority under the Power of Attorney section, and all parties will have documented instructions regarding medical decision-making.


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