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Answering questions about advance directives

One of the hardest things about falling ill is not being in control. Even if a health issue incapacitates you, you still want your wishes met. You’ve thought about everything else – your will, your estate – why not make your medical requests known, too?


What is an advance directive?

Also known as a living will, in New Jersey an advance directive is a document that lets your preferences for your own medical treatment be known if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions.

New Jersey has two types of advance directives: a proxy directive and an instruction directive.

A proxy directive is a document that you use to appoint someone to be your “health care representative.” That person will make your medical decisions for you if you are unable to do it yourself.

An instruction directive is a document that tells your health care workers and your family what measures to take in certain situations. For example, your instruction directive might stipulate whether or not you want to receive treatments like CPR, ventilation, a feeding tube or other procedures if they are medically necessary.

You don’t necessarily need both a proxy directive and an instruction directive, but many people do have both.

What if I can still make my own decisions?

If you can still make your own decisions, your advanced directive will not be in effect. Advance directives only kick in when you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions for yourself.

Who can be my health care representative?

Almost any adult can serve as your health care representative in your proxy directive. People often choose a spouse or partner, a friend or their adult child to fill the role.

However, your attending physician cannot be your health care representative. Neither can an employee of the medical facility in which you are a patient or resident, unless they are related to you.

Will an advance directive affect my life insurance?

No. An advance directive has no bearing on your life insurance policy.

Who should have my advance directive?

You should give a copy of your advance directive to your health care representative if you have one. You should also give a copy to your physician or other medical professionals to keep with your file. It is also wise to give a copy to your attorney and to keep a copy with your other personal documents.

Do I need an attorney to create an advance directive?

Though it’s not necessary to have an attorney to create your advance directive, it’s often a good idea. An attorney can help you determine the conditions of your advance directive and may have ideas for your advance directive that you haven’t thought of. They can also help ensure your will is carried out if you ever do become unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

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