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Securing Your Future: The Importance of an Advance Medical Directive in Estate Planning
An advance medical directive is an important aspect of the estate planning process. Nobody wants to think about unfortunate medical issues that may arise in their future. However, it is important to plan for your future medical care in the same way that it is important to make plans for your assets. This is where an advance medical directive comes in.
What is an Advance Medical Directive?
An advance medical directive is a legal document laying out your medical care preferences for use in the event that you are unable to make your own decisions. The directive only goes into effect once a doctor determines that you are incapable of understanding your medical state, treatment options, etc. So, you would use your directive to explain how your medical wishes in preparation for the event you cannot tell a doctor yourself. With a medical directive you can also appoint someone as your health care surrogate. This person would be entitled to make medical decisions on your behalf, as opposed to just a document with your wishes. Your directive can be updated or revoked, including changing your surrogate, at any time prior to your incapacitation. Examples of decisions that your medical directive may include are if you wish to be kept alive using machines, or if you wish to donate your organs when you pass away. Additionally, this could include types of facilities you would like to be treated at, for example, if you would like to remain in your home or at a care-taking facility. A medical directive can last indefinitely, when you are affected by a permanent disease or disability or temporarily, if you are momentarily impaired, potentially after an accident. New Jersey has two types of advance directives which will be explained below.
Why is an Advance Medical Directive Important?
The examples listed above are types of decisions that may be included in an advance medical directive. Naturally, these are important and life-altering decisions. Most people have specific wants concerning their medical treatment. However, in the unfortunate circumstances that they are unable to communicate those desires, they may be treated with less favorable methods. An advance medical directive prevents this situation. The directive allows you to preserve your autonomy and values even when you cannot make decisions in the moment. Creating an advance medical directive only requires a small amount of advance planning which can be made easy with the assistance of an experienced attorney.
Types of Advance Medical Directives
As mentioned, NJ has two types of advance medical directives: a proxy directive and an instruction directive. You are not required to have one over the other. It is your decision which you would like to have; you could use both.
First is a proxy directive, or a durable power of attorney for healthcare. This is the document you would use if you wanted to appoint a healthcare surrogate to make decisions on your behalf. This person’s duties would only come into effect after you could no longer make your own decisions. The surrogate is supposed to make the same decisions they think you would in the situation. However, if they cannot determine what you would do, they make their decision based on what they think would be in your best interest.
The next is an instruction directive, or a living will. This is the document you would use to explain, in writing, how you want to be treated. This includes if you would like to have life-sustaining treatments. This document can also include an overview of your general care preferences and beliefs and values. This overview can guide your family’s and doctors’ decision regarding how you would prefer to be treated. This can be helpful if your directive hasn’t specifically covered the medical situation, you are in.
Who Should be Your Healthcare Surrogate?
You can choose almost anybody you would like to be your surrogate. The surrogate must be at least 18 years old. The only exceptions are this person cannot be your attending physician or the administrator or employee of your healthcare institution unless they are related to you. Only one person can be appointed as your surrogate. However, you can list alternative surrogates in order of priority. So, if the primary surrogate cannot complete their duties, the alternates would step in. It is important to choose a surrogate who you trust. In the event you do not leave detailed instructions, the surrogate has the ability to make choices on your behalf. Therefore, you want to make sure you are choosing a surrogate who you trust will make decisions for your benefit.
How do I Prepare an Advance Medical Directive?
If you are considering creating an advance medical directive, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you. An attorney’s assistance is beneficial to ensure that your choices are being properly conveyed. Additionally, an attorney can advise your surrogate selection. An attorney can also help answer any further questions you have. For any questions, concerns, or to set up an advance medical directive, contact an estate planning attorney at Scura, Wigfield, Heyer, Stevens, and Cammarota, LLP.
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