One of the most important things you should do pertaining to your estate and end-of-life planning to have a last will and testament as well as an advanced healthcare directive. If you speak to any lawyer, they will tell you it is very important to have both of these things, especially if you have children. There are many terms involved with estate and end-of-life planning that can be confusing. Some documents used to be called one thing years ago are now called something different. Some documents are called one thing in the New Jersey statutes, but are commonly referred to as something else in other states, which can cause confusion as to what documents are necessary.
Because of the confusion, you may all the important life decision documents that need to be done. Hopefully, after reading this article you will understand the differences between the various documents and will know what you need to do to get your house in order.
Living Will vs. Advanced Directive
There are important differences between a living will and an advance directive. An “advance directive” is a broader term that covers many different documents that may be needed to deal with your health issues and end of life decisions. A “living will” is one of the documents within that broad category covered by advance directives.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a document that comes into play only at the end of your life when your doctors have determined that you are in a terminal state. This means that the doctors cannot cure whatever condition you are in and that your death is imminent.
Also, a living will document will only be applied if your physical condition prevents you from understanding what’s going on and communicating with your doctors and your family. So, if you are in a terminal state and cannot communicate with your doctors, then they will look to the living will document to determine how they will provide medical treatment to you.
For example, take the case of an individual who suffered a massive stroke and is in a coma and cannot communicate with the outside world. The doctors have indicated that there is nothing that can be done and the individual is in a terminal state and will most likely die soon. A question would arise as to what should the doctors do if the person’s heart fails: should they use further measures like CPR and defibrillators to keep the person alive?
A living will directs the doctors in what the patient wants and what their wishes are in situations like this. The patient may not wish to have further measures performed. Heroic measures would be something akin to CPR performed if the patient’s heart stops, for instance. Without a living will, the patient would not be able to communicate this and, by law, the doctors would have to perform heroic measures to keep the patient alive, which could cause stress, anxiety, and trauma for patients as well as their family members.
This is why having a living will is so important: you never know when something might render you incapable of voicing your wishes. Unfortunately, accidents such as car and truck crashes, slip and falls, and work accidents happen all the time and put people in a terminal state where they cannot communicate their end-of-life decisions.
What Is an Advanced Healthcare Directive?
An advanced healthcare directive is different from a living will in that it will cover your healthcare decisions even when you are not in a terminal state. It will tell the doctors your healthcare wishes when you are in a medical condition where you cannot communicate with the outside world. For example, you may be in a temporary coma but not in a terminal state. Or, you may have to undergo surgery and you are knocked out by anesthesia where you cannot communicate your wishes. Advance healthcare directives will at least give your physicians some idea as to what your wishes are when medical conditions arise.
Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney would be a document that fits within the advanced healthcare directive that would give trusted individuals the power to make medical decisions about your care when you cannot communicate with the outside world. Again, this could be in any situation, not just if you are in the terminal state. A medical power of attorney would appoint an agent who is a proxy who is granted the legal authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make such decisions for yourself. Your proxy will be your voice to your physicians and other medical professionals.
Your proxy will be able to meet any and all decisions that you could have made assuming you were able to communicate them. But your health care proxy will have to swear or affirm an oath to act in your best interest. Also, if they violate that oath in some way, they could be sued for violating their oath. When created, this document must be witnessed by two individuals, or acknowledged before a Notary Public, attorney at law, or another person authorized to administer oaths.
The New Jersey Wills, Trusts, and Estate Lawyers at Herold Law Are Here to Help Clients with End of Life Documents Like Wills and Advanced Directives
If you have questions about end-of-life documents such as wills and advanced healthcare directives, you have come to the right place. Our New Jersey wills, trusts, and estate lawyers at Herold Law have decades of experience in helping clients with these important decisions. Call us today at 908-647-1022 or fill out our online form for an initial consultation. With our offices located in Warren, New Jersey, we proudly represent all communities of Warren and Plainfield.