Most young adults in their 20s and 30s enjoy good health. They rarely (if ever) need to go to the doctor or the hospital. Serious illness and injury seem like remote possibilities that healthy young people seldom consider.
Hopefully, we will all enjoy a long, healthy life. But nothing is guaranteed. That is why having a living will and medical directive as part of your estate plan is so critical. Especially if, for example, you plan to get pregnant soon or have to undergo surgery; although thankfully unlikely with modern medicine, complications could develop that leave you incapacitated. If that happens, you won’t be able to decide the type of medical care you receive. The level of life-saving interventions your doctors perform (such as using an artificial respirator) may go further than you want — or not far enough — to keep you alive.
In New Jersey, there are two types of medical directives, also known as advance directives. These are the living will and proxy directive, which can usually incorporated in one document.
Living will: for when you cannot talk to your doctor
Called an “instruction directive” in New Jersey law, a living will outlines instructions for your doctor and loved ones about the level and type of life-sustaining care you would want to receive if you are incapacitated. For example, you can detail if or when you would want to be put on life support. Your living will keeps these decisions in your hands in case you are unable to speak for yourself at any moment in time.
Having an attorney draw up a living will for you ensures that you are not relying on others to remember your wishes and carry them out as you’d like. Many people often place a lot of trust in the hands of their loved ones to advocate for them in the exact way they want, but it is much safer to place your wishes in writing in a legal document. Your loved ones may not remember your wishes correctly, or they may not be able to explain adequately. A living will is the safest way to protect your exact wishes.
Proxy directive: someone you can rely on to carry out your wishes
A proxy directive designates someone else to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. The person you choose is called your “healthcare representative” or “Healthcare Proxy”. They will base their decisions on your living will or use their best judgment if it does not include instructions for the specific situation at hand. Most people choose their spouse, child or other relative to be their healthcare representative, but you can select anyone you trust with such an important duty.
It is crucial to name a proxy directive within a legal document as it is not guaranteed that healthcare professionals will listen to your loved ones without it. You may think your spouse or other family member may have this power automatically, but legislation like HIPAA can prevent doctors from even discussing your medical condition or care with unauthorized parties. A proxy directive document protects you by allowing the person(s) you designate to speak for you.
Discuss your medical care plans with an attorney to protect your wishes
Whether you are in perfect health or experiencing medical issues, planning ahead is crucial to get the type of health care you want and deserve. Contact Mariano & Coiro, P.C. to speak with an attorney about your options for an advance directive. You can reach us online or by calling 732-249-7300.