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Randall D. Armour: Make sure that you make your health care wishes known

It's the Law

Posted: August 12, 2009 8:34 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Health care directives are an important part of any estate plan.

Although this has always been the case, this fact was brought to the attention of many people for the first time recently when the Terri Schiavo case in Florida that made national headlines.

Terri Schiavo suffered a massive heart attack in 1990, at the age of 26. The heart attack left Terri Schiavo in what the doctors called  a persistent vegetative state.

She could not communicate and her only movements were minor reflexes. Feeding tubes were necessary to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

After eight years with no signs of improvement, Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, requested that the feeding tubes be removed claiming that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to be kept alive in this condition.

Her parents disagreed and a seven-year legal battle ensued which ultimately involved congress and the president. Ultimately, after 15 years, her feeding tube was removed.

Regardless of where we stand on the moral and political issues raised by this case, I think most of us would agree we would not want our families to suffer through an ordeal similar to the one just described.

It is very important to realize that if you are an adult, in most cases, nobody has the legal right to make medical decisions for you, or even to have access to your medical records, if you cannot make medical decisions for yourself.

This applies to spouses as well as parents.   

Fortunately, there is a way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out and that someone you trust will have the legal right to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

In California, this document is now called an advance health care directive.

The advance health care directive allows you to name a health care agent (and alternates) to act on your behalf without any court proceedings. Additionally, the advance health care Directive allows you to provide doctors with specific instructions about your preferences with regard to certain procedures or treatments if you meet certain criteria with respect to your medical condition.

Generally, these instructions deal with the use of artificial life-sustaining measures.

With appropriate planning, you can ensure that your family wont be faced with making difficult decisions without your input. A properly drafted and updated Advance Health care Directive often turns out to be the most important part of an estate plan.

Attorney Randall D. Armour practices in the areas of estate planning, probate and trust administration. He can be contacted at (661) 259-0003 or visit


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