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Estate plans can make end-of-life care decisions in advance

Much of estate planning is focused on what happens after we are gone. A well-drafted will helps our loved ones through the transition, resolving difficult issues in advance and, hopefully, providing them with the resources to have easier lives.

However, some types of estate planning documents can go into effect before we pass away. These can include certain types of trusts that can protect assets and provide for loved ones. They can also include advance health care directives and other documents that can be invaluable in helping families to avoid some extremely painful disputes.

A heart-breaking story in the news recently helps illustrate some of the problems that can come up without a good plan in place for end-of-life care. A 16-year-old boy has been hospitalized for weeks with a severe head injury. The hospital determined the teen is brain dead and seeks to disconnect his body from life support machines. However, the boy's family has been fighting that decision in court, trying to keep him hooked up to a ventilator. They have introduced testimony from another medical expert who argues that the boy continues to have brain activity and needs more time to heal.

Although this story is unfolding in another state and involves a person who is a minor, it still illustrates an important point for New Jersey residents. Specifically, part of any resident's estate planning should include some provisions for end-of-life care.

When a person does not name a representative to make health decisions and offers little or no guidance to either the family or medical providers, it is very easy for highly emotional probate litigation to arise should the person suffer an injury or serious illness. Of course, sometimes this sort of litigation emerges even despite the best of planning, in which case New Jersey families are well advised to seek out the help of an experienced probate attorney.

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