California allows for powers of attorney, documents that pass the right to make decisions from one person to another. In general, a power of attorney can be limited in any manner the person giving the power away chooses. When it comes to health-care decisions, California has specific laws dealing with how these documents can be created and used.
Powers of attorney are written documents whereby the principal (the person granting the powers) allows the attorney-in-fact (also called the agent) the ability to make decisions on their behalf. Powers of attorney (POA) generally last as long as the principal is alive and able to make decisions on their own behalf. However, a durable POA extends the right of the agent to make decisions after the principal's death or incapacitation.
Advanced Health Care Directive
In California, the rights of a person to designate someone their agent in matters of health care decisions is generally referred to as an advanced health care directive. While these documents have generally replaced durable POA for health care in California, POA can still be used if it was granted before 2000. After that, the powers granted by durable POA for health care can be conveyed through the advanced health care directives, though they can still be referred to as a POA.
The advanced health care directive (or durable POA for health care) allows the agent to make medical decisions on behalf of the principal in the event of her incapacitation. The agent can authorize, refuse to authorize and generally make decisions about health-care treatments on the principal's behalf. The directive also grants the agent the right to inspect and review the principal's medical records.
Using a durable power of attorney for health care in California does not preclude the person from also using an advanced medical directive, or living will. The directive can be used in conjunction with the POA. People may create both the medical directive and the power of attorney, and direct their agent to act in accordance with the medical directive. In situations that may not be covered by these living wills, the agent can use his judgment pursuant to the POA.
California allows for up to three alternate agents to be named in the advanced health care directive. In the event the first choice of agent is either unable or unwilling to serve in the capacity as attorney-in-fact, the alternate agents can serve in that position. While agents have the ability to make decisions on behalf of the principal, they are not generally liable for medical costs for bills incurred as a result of their choices.