Creating a health care directive is an important part of effective estate planning because it allows you to authorize an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf. While you may feel perfectly healthy right now, a legal document could protect you in the event you become ill or incapacitated.

Some individuals refer to this document as a living will, an advanced health care directive or a power of attorney. Regardless of how you refer to it, the document legally grants a designated agent to act on your behalf when faced with important decisions.

As described by Forbes magazine, a health care directive specifically provides instructions for how caregivers should administer your medical treatment. If you fall ill or suffer from impairment, the individual named in your document may discuss your health issues and concerns with doctors, nurses and their staff. Instructions may also dictate how you wish for practitioners to handle your body in preparation for a burial or cremation.

Without authorizing a named individual, California health care practitioners may determine medical treatment for you based on the currently existing regulations. Standard protocols, however, may conflict with your own personal views and wishes regarding medical attention.

Approximately two-thirds of adult Americans do not have a valid health care directive. Many individuals mistakenly believe that their spouses will automatically carry out all of their wishes when they become ill or incapacitated.

While capable spouses may fully understand your needs and desires, a medical practitioner may not have the authorization to consider them without first engaging in a legally required discussion. If you name your spouse as your agent, he or she may then act as your proxy and communicate your wishes to your medical practitioners.