You may not expect to be unable to communicate wishes for your medical care. But an accident or illness can prevent you from letting doctors know how they should treat you. When this happens, you must rely on your loved ones to make decisions for you.

However, if you worry that your family doesn’t have your best interests in mind, you can leave them instructions. An advance directive can let your family and doctors know your medical preferences. And the sooner you create one, the more you can be sure they will follow your wishes.

Choosing your own health care preferences

In California, you can fill out an advance health care directive that lists your preferences for different medical scenarios. If you have specific wishes for how doctors treat you, you can explain the treatment you want. You can even deny treatment if you have a terminal diagnosis.

The advance directive also lets you choose an agent to make decisions for you. If you don’t list certain medical situations, your agent will let doctors know what to do. Picking one person to make decisions can help you avoid having someone you don’t trust telling medical professionals how to treat you.

Taking the stress away from your family

An advance directive protects your wishes when you can’t communicate. For example, a car accident could leave you in a coma. Or a stroke could take away your ability to speak.

You may not expect these to happen to you. But if you don’t have a plan in place, you must let your family choose treatment for you. If you haven’t discussed your wishes with them, they may not do what you want. And if they disagree about what to do, they may argue and delay your treatment.

By writing down your wishes, you can avoid these struggles.