People are often confused by the difference between a will and a living will. Although both documents play a vital role in a well-conceived estate plan, each serves a distinct purpose. A will is the most basic estate planning tool, providing instructions for the distribution of your assets and other matters after you die. A living will, also referred to as an advance medical directive, declares your preferences for end-of-life medical care if you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself. While no one likes to think about the prospect of becoming incapacitated, having the right legal documents in place will give you and your loved one’s peace of mind.
E.A. Goodman Law, PLLC provides first-rate legal representation to individuals, families and business owners in New Jersey who are seeking to secure their financial future. We frequently advise clients on a wide range of essential estate planning documents, including advance medical directives such as living wills and health care proxies. While some individuals might be tempted to download and complete forms for advance medical directives from the internet, the best way to ensure your health care preferences are followed is by working with our capable and caring estate planning attorneys.
A Living Will and a Power of Attorney for Health Care: Do I need both?
Let’s face it: life is fragile. Anyone can suffer an illness or an injury at any time, and the prospect of becoming incapacitated or terminally ill increases with age. This is why your estate plan should include both a power of attorney for health care (or health care proxy) and a living will.
A durable power of attorney for health care (or a health care proxy) is a legal document in which you name a trusted person (e.g. a spouse, other relative or close friend) to serve as your health care agent. This person is authorized to make sure you receive the medical care that you prefer if you are unable to make such decisions for yourself. A durable power of attorney for healthcare (or healthcare proxy) can be operative at any time you designate, however, not just when your condition is terminal.
A living will, on the other hand, depends on a terminal illness or permanent unconsciousness to become effective. In particular, a living will specifies the life-preserving measures that should be taken, or withheld, when you cannot communicate these wishes.
Who can act as my healthcare representative in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, the person you select to make health care decisions for you must be at least 18 years of age, as well as capable and trustworthy. This person should also be assertive, calm under pressure, and able to advocate for your healthcare wishes with doctors, family members and in court if necessary.
A living will becomes effective when your doctor determines that you lack the capacity to make your own healthcare decisions. In this regard, there are two elements of lacking capacity:
- You cannot understand the available health care options and their consequences
- You are unable to communicate your wishes for end-of-life care orally, in writing, or through gestures
For all intents and purposes, a living will goes into effect immediately unless there is a question about your ability to understand your treatment options and communicate clearly. In any event, your health care agent must always act in your best interests and abide by the wishes expressed in your living will.
Other Things to Know About a Living Will
A living will remains effective during your lifetime, unless you decide to change it or the court is forced to intervene. You can change or revoke a living will at any time while you are able to do so. In addition, the court may be called upon to resolve a dispute about the validity of your advance medical directives. The court may invalidate the document if it can be shown that you were not of sound mind when the living will was prepared or if the document wasn’t properly executed. Nonetheless, the courts have ruled that any strong evidence of someone’s wishes should be honored.
In any event, by having a living will in place, you can rest assured that you will receive the type of end-of-life care you prefer or that extreme measures will not be taken to prolong your life, such as intubation or the insertion of a feeding tube. As unpleasant as thinking about incapacity and dying is, preparing a living will is the only responsible thing you can do to protect yourself and your family. Without a living will in place, a doctor or hospital may prolong your life against your wishes, and your loved ones will need to ask the court for permission to act as your health care agent. You can relieve your family of this burden by creating both a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare.
Living Will Attorney Serving Bergen, Morris, & Summerset County
When you come to E.A. Goodman Law, you can count on receiving the advice and guidance you need to make the best decisions for your future and your family. Our legal team will take the time to understand your healthcare needs and learn about your preferences for medical treatment. Above all, we will work to make sure your wishes for end-of-life care are clearly communicated and that your best interests are protected. If you need assistance preparing a living will or have questions about any estate planning matter, we can help. Call our office today or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.