Q: When I receive bills and statements I always throw all the inserts away. After talking with a neighbor I realize some of those inserts may have been privacy notices on which I should have taken action. Is there anything I can do?
A: Even if you threw away the notices, you can act at any time to protect your personal information. Contact your bank or any other company, ask for a copy of its privacy notice and follow the instructions for protecting your privacy.
You can also draft your own notice. It should tell the company you do not want it to disclose personally identifiable information about you to nonaffiliated companies or individuals.
In the future keep alert for notices when you open new accounts or when companies tell you about changes in their privacy policies. Always look over all inserts before you toss them. If they contain identifiable information, shred them.
Q: Is there a difference between an advance directive for health care and a living will, and do I need an attorney to complete the paperwork?
A: An advance directive for health care and a living will are completely different.
An advance directive for health care is a legal document. It allows you to appoint an agent to speak for you when you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself. Your appointed agent will have the legal authority to carry out your wishes about accepting or refusing treatment, accessing your medical records, donating organs and having an autopsy. Your wishes must be stated in the document in which you appoint your agent. You can, however, limit your agent’s powers by stipulating which powers the person may have.
A living will, by contrast, only allows you to state your desire not to receive life-sustaining treatment when terminally ill or in an irreversible coma. It cannot be used to handle other health care decisions and does not allow for the appointment of an agent to speak for you.
If you are considering either, read and complete the documents carefully to make sure they reflect your wishes and let your family know of their existence once you have executed them.
You do not need an attorney for either document to be valid. However, if there is anything in the document you don’t understand, you should consult with an attorney to ensure that what you are doing will fulfill your wishes.
Your advance directive will be valid for an indefinite period of time unless you specify differently. The law specifically states that no one can require you to complete an advance directive before being admitted to a hospital or health care facility. Also, no one can deny you health care or insurance if you choose not to complete such a document.
If you change your mind after completing a form, you may revoke it at any time by informing everyone who knows of its existence and destroying any copies you may have made.
Know that the advance directive form that meets California law requirements might be invalid in other states. If you spend considerable time in other locations, consult authorities in those jurisdictions about their requirements.