One moment you can be completely conscious and thriving, while a few minutes later the unexpected can happen and you can be in a coma in California, completely unable to make your own decisions. You could be in a car accident or have a sudden health care crisis, there could come a time when you are in a coma and unable to act for yourself or your loved ones.

Let’s say the worst happens and suddenly you are in a coma. So many of my clients ask the critical question – what happens now?

First of all, it is most likely that you will placed into the critical care area of your local hospital. This is a special area where the nurses and doctors can monitor the coma patient. The hospital will quickly need direction as to who is in charge of making your medical decisions when you cannot. It will be looking for the legal authority that allows them to interact with your decision maker.

This reality is scary, but there are ways to prepare for this type of situation. The first step is to have California advance directives in place so the person you want making decisions for you has the legal authority to do so. This includes an advance healthcare directives (i.e. medical power of attorney), HIPAA form and a living will. Your decision maker will need to be able to furnish these estate planning documents to the hospital. If you work with a firm like ours, we can provide you with an emergency medical wallet card for responders and the hospital to access.

In this situation, the health care power of attorney gives your agent the right to make decisions regarding your care. In most instances this will include everything except for end-of-life decisions. The reality of this situation is we are discussing end-of-life decisions if you are in a coma. In this scenario, your doctors will ask if you have a living will.

A living will is the estate planning document through which you can let others know, specifically your family and physician, how you want to be treated if you are in a coma or other end-of-life scenarios, such as end stage renal disease. Ask yourself: How do I want life sustaining treatment to be administered if I am in a persistent vegetative state?

Even with these documents in place it is important for you to know that decisions like these are not made quickly. When circumstances do support a living will being used often a hospital ethics committee needs to meet to decide on the best course of action with your agent and family and doctors.

There is a common stigma attached to all advance directives. That is, these type of documents only matter if you are older in age. This could not be more untrue! Everyone is susceptible to unexpected serious injuries.  Many of us remember the Terri Shiavo case.  She was only 26 years old when she suffered cardiac arrest and fell into an irreversible persistent vegetative state! Therefore, everyone should have comprehensive California estate planning in place. It is not wise to procrastinate; you need to be proactive when dealing with this type of planning.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.

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