Advance directives are not just for the benefit of someone with declining physical health. They can also address mental incapacity. A mental health advance directive outlines a person’s preferences for treating their mental health problem. It can also appoint a healthcare proxy to review the legal healthcare documents and instruct doctors on the patient’s wishes.
When drafted correctly, a mental health advance directive clearly states who should become responsible for communicating your medical preferences. The appointed agent should be willing to fulfill their duties and advise your medical team on treating your mental condition.
When a Mental Health Directive Takes Effect
The only requirement for a mental health advance directive to take effect is that your doctor must determine that you lack mental competency. When you can no longer make sound decisions during a mental health crisis, someone else needs to step in and make decisions for you.
Once the doctor decides you’re incompetent, they should include their opinion in a written statement or in your medical records. They will need to review the directive to ensure you signed it and completed everything correctly. Then they can notify your chosen agent.
What Is a Healthcare Proxy?
A healthcare proxy, also referred to as an agent or medical power of attorney, is the person you appoint to make decisions about your mental health treatment if you can’t make them for yourself. The person you pick should act in your best interest and direct your doctors in the necessary care you would choose for yourself if you were of sound mind.
Your healthcare proxy must only make decisions you instruct them to make. They can’t manage your financial affairs or care for your children. Leaving instructions regarding your specific needs allows them to proceed with the information necessary to instruct your medical team.
Elements of a Mental Health Advance Directive
Your mental health directive should include detailed instructions on what you want and don’t want during treatment for your mental health condition.
The document you draft should include information, such as:
- Whether you prefer hospitalization during a mental health crisis
- Psychiatric medications that typically work for you and drugs you don’t like to take
- The names of the physicians handling your care
- Facilities you prefer or want to avoid
- Family members your healthcare proxy can notify if you require emergency medical care
- Medical issues and allergies your doctors should know about
- Whether you consent to experimental treatment
- People allowed to visit you in the hospital
How to Create a Valid Mental Health Advance Directive
A mental health directive isn’t valid if you don’t sign it. It’s crucial to understand the importance of being competent when signing the document. If you’re of unsound mind while executing the document, your healthcare proxy likely won’t be able to enforce the directive.
Depending on where you live, you might have to sign in front of a notary public and/or witnesses. Minors can never witness the signing of an advance directive. Your witnesses must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Indicating who you appoint as your healthcare proxy in the directive might also be a requirement.
If you have already created a mental health advance directive, it might be time for an update. You should modify the document regularly, especially if something significant happens. For example, if your appointed healthcare proxy dies, you need to choose someone else to act on your behalf and indicate who that person is in the directive.
If you’re creating a mental health advance directive or updating an existing one, do not hesitate to speak with our Santa Ana estate planning lawyers. Our knowledgeable and experienced legal team can guide you through the process to ensure your wishes and interests remain protected if you experience a mental health issue. Contact us at (800) 244-8814 to schedule an appointment.