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Frequently Asked Questions

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is a process of reflection and communication. It leads to development of a personal healthcare directive, a legal document intended to guide medical decisions.

Advance care planning involves exploring your wishes, expressing your wishes and preparing others to honor your wishes.

It is a conversation that takes place over time and is better done in a living room or an outpatient clinic, rather than a hospital room.

What is an advance healthcare directive?

An advance healthcare directive:

  • Provides a way to make your healthcare wishes known before you are no longer able to communicate your choices
  • Allows you to specify what kinds of treatments you might want under certain circumstances
  • Allows you to name a willing person(s) — if you choose to do so — as your healthcare agent to speak on your behalf, to represent your preferences and work with your doctor to make decisions for your care

A completed directive is useful only if it is available when needed. It should be readily accessible and shared, at a minimum, with your doctor and healthcare agent. Do not keep it a secret or store it away.

Do I need an attorney to complete my directive?

Although an advance healthcare directive is a legal document, you do not need an attorney to complete one.

To make your directive legal, it needs to be to be signed by two witnesses or notarized by a licensed Notary Public. Witnesses must be persons other than your healthcare agent(s).

Because situations often change, it’s important to regularly review and update your advance healthcare directive and advise your doctor(s) and healthcare agent of changes. Some people mark a memorable date on their calendars as a reminder to review their directive annually.

Where do I find the advance care directive form?

In California, there is no one required advance healthcare directive form. You may want to review several forms and choose the one you like best.

Many websites offer forms in English, Spanish, Chinese, and other languages.

UCI Health has an advance directive form for download ›

Two easy-to-use advance directive forms, which meet the requirements of California law are:

What happens if I don’t have an advance healthcare directive?

If you don’t have a directive and become unable to speak in a medical situation, physicians will generally try to locate your family members, friends or clergy to make decisions about your care.

If physicians are unable to locate anyone willing to speak on your behalf, a hospital ethics committee or a court may make decisions for you.

When should I complete advance care planning or an advance healthcare directive?

If you’re 18 or older, the sooner, the better.

No one can predict when accident or illness may leave you unable to communicate your choices to your loved ones and/or physician.

When would the provisions in my advance healthcare directive go into effect?

Most people choose to have their advance healthcare directives go into effect only if they lose the ability to communicate or understand decisions about their care. If you have a healthcare agent, you can also choose to allow him/her to speak for you at any time, even if you can understand, make and communicate your own decisions.

What if I want to change my advance healthcare directive?

Your directive can be revised any time up until your ability to make and communicate healthcare decisions is lost.

You have the right to change your document as many times as you want. Simply complete a new document and destroy the old one. Your most recently dated directive is the one that is legally valid and will be acted upon.

Make sure your loved ones, healthcare agent, physician(s) and caregiver(s) get a copy of the most recent version.

What is a healthcare agent?

A healthcare agent is someone over the age of 18 to whom you give the authority to make healthcare decisions should you become unable or unwilling to communicate for yourself.

These decisions include:

  • Choosing your doctor or other healthcare provider, and where you will receive care
  • Speaking with your healthcare team about your condition and treatment options
  • Reviewing your medical record and authorizing its release when needed
  • Accepting or refusing medical treatments for you, including CPR
  • Consenting to tissue and organ donation, authorizing an autopsy and arranging for care of your body after death

It is advisable, but optional, to name a healthcare agent.

Who should I choose as my healthcare agent?

Choose an adult you trust to best represent your wishes. This may be a relative or a friend. Or, you could select an attorney or fiduciary. It is vital to communicate with your agent about your wishes through advance care planning conversations.

Make sure they can advocate for the type of care you want. The more you discuss your wishes with your agent, the better he/she will be able to make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to speak for yourself.

Do I need to name a healthcare agent?

Selecting a healthcare agent is optional. However, if you have a relative or friend you believe would properly represent your wishes and he/she is comfortable serving in this role, it is highly advisable to name an agent in your advance healthcare directive.

Having a healthcare agent increases the likelihood that your wishes will be honored.

If you don’t name an agent, it is still important to complete a directive so you can document and share your wishes with your doctor.

Advance directive classes

If you don't have an advance directive, come to our class and learn how to fill one out. You'll have the opportunity to ask questions while we walk you through the process of making healthcare decisions.


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End-of-life decisions

Man holding hands together 


Having an advance directive means confronting our own mortality, which is difficult, says Dr. Douglas Merrill. But putting one together may be one of the most important things you'll ever do. Read more on our blog ›