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The Advance Health Care Directive Law for Children 18 and Over

As a new school year approaches, college students and parents should consider the benefits of an Advance Health Care Directive for children age eighteen (18) and over.  An Advance Health Care Directive is especially useful for adult children who live away from their parents and those who participate in their parents’ health insurance.      

1. What is an Advance Health Care Directive?

The Advance Health Care Directive appoints an agent to make health care decisions on behalf of another (the “Principal”).  Any resident of California who is at least eighteen (18) years old, of sound mind, and acting of his or her own free will can complete a valid Advance Health Care Directive. 

Under the terms of a valid Advance Health Care Directive, an agent will have legal authority to speak for the Principal with respect to health care matters.  The agent named in an Advance Health Care Directive will have no authority to make decisions for the Principal until the Principal is unable to make those decisions, unless the Principal expressly states in the Advance Health Care Directive that the Agent has permission to make those decisions immediately.  Where a child gives a parent agent the right to make decisions immediately, the parent agent will have the legal authority to schedule medical appointments for the child.

Health care decision-making powers include, among other powers, authorizing or withholding life support, depending on the Principal’s preferences.  The Agent must make decisions that are consistent with any instructions written in the Advance Health Care Directive or made known in other ways.  Although an Advance Health Care Directive allows a Principal to determine who will make their health care decisions for them if they cannot, what their intent is as to life support and whether they intend to be organ donors, the form is not a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) nor is it a POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment).  Additionally, by law, an agent cannot consent to committing or placing the Principal in a mental health treatment facility, or to convulsive treatment, psychosurgery, sterilization or abortion, and may not request an aid-in-dying drug. 

2. How can an Advance Health Care Directive benefit students and parents?

Appointing a parent as a health care agent ensures there will be someone trustworthy to actively participate in decisions surrounding the Principal’s health care, if the need arises.  Having a health care agent helps families plan for situations that cannot be foreseen, like a serious accident.   

When made effective immediately, a parent agent will have the legal authority to assist their children by speaking to healthcare providers to schedule medical appointments on behalf of their child.  This is especially helpful for busy college students who would like their parents to schedule appointments for them, either regularly or when home on break.   

When making a back-to-school plan, it is important to consider whether an Advance Health Care Directive is appropriate for you and your child.


Maria Palomares is an associate attorney in the Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Administration department at Berliner Cohen, LLP.  She can be reached at

This article is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation for the formation of an attorney-client relationship.  Anyone with questions about this topic should consult an attorney.